When President Clinton was fitted with hearing aids, baby boomers got the message loud and clear.
The First Baby Boomer’s example is apparently leading many middle-aged people to inquire about gadgets they once associated with the Geritol set.
“I really didn’t want to face up to it,” said 57-year-old lawyer Nathan Beck, who often had trouble hearing in the Jersey City, N.J., courthouse where he often works. “But with the president and reading how common this is, I recognized that there isn’t any magic solution.”
On Saturday - a day after Clinton’s annual physical turned up the hearing problem - Beck finally had the hearing aid fitting his doctor had been recommending for more than three years.
He was not alone. The normally quiet audiology department at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore fielded calls from nearly a dozen patients in one day who cited Clinton’s example. The Hearing Industries Association said it has been besieged with calls.
“Our phone has been ringing and people have been scheduling appointments,” said Karin Young, head of audiology services at Johns Hopkins, who usually schedules about one appointment a day.
The phenomenon in the $2 billion hearing aid industry recalls the 20 percent jump in sales that occurred after President Reagan was fitted for the first of his many hearing aids.
But while Reagan’s appeal was to senior citizens, Clinton’s appeal is to those under 65 who studies have shown are less likely to wear hearing devices even if they are diagnosed with a hearing problem.
Patients have begun asking for discreet hearing aids like the ones the 51-year-old president plans to wear. The skin-colored “completely in-the-canal” device hides in the auditory canal, noticeable only to those with a view directly into the ear.
They’re not cheap. White House has not disclosed what brand Clinton will wear, but the type officials have described costs about $4,000 for two.
“There’s a whole kind of psychological aura around hearing aids that doesn’t really exist for glasses. There’s a sense of infirmity,” said Charles Hutto, an audiologist at Chesapeake Hearing Centers in Severna Park, Md.
“We always say you’re more conspicuous without a hearing aid than with it. People notice when you can’t hear.”