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    Baby Boomers Listen Up

    Ear Today, Gone Tomorrow

    A Rocker's Story

    That was true for Kathy Peck. As guitarist for a punk band in the 1970s and 1980s, she regularly spent time on stage close to loudspeakers. By the mid-1980s, "I realized I couldn't hear clearly what people were saying," Peck says.

    Her hearing loss prompted Peck and a friend, Flash Gordon, MD (a physician, not the comic strip character), to establish HEAR (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers). The organization seeks to inform musicians and fans about the dangers of loud music and promotes the use of earplugs at shows.

    At the organization's clinic in San Francisco, Peck notices more and more middle-aged adults with hearing problems coming in for help. And she is reaching out to educate the boomers' children about the dangers of loud recorded music at dance events, which are often more popular with today's youth than live concerts.

    What Can Be Done?

    Even if there is already hearing loss, protecting the ears can minimize further injury. Earplugs, sold in most drugstores, should be worn when people are around loud power tools or attending loud concerts. Larger earphone-like devices can help for especially loud tools, like leaf blowers, Battey says.

    When hearing loss is already severe, a hearing aid may be required.

    One option is the new disposable hearing aid marketed by Songbird Medical. The device lasts about 40 days, says company President and CEO Frederick Fritz. And because the battery is built-in and discarded with the device, the hearing aid doesn't have a battery door, standard on other hearing aids. That allows room for a bigger microphone, which improves sound quality, according to Fritz.

    Like the disposable model, many other hearing aids now fit completely in the ear canal, and are nearly invisible to other people. And that, designers and ear specialists hope, may convince hard-of-hearing boomers to do something about their problem -- without broadcasting their accumulation of birthdays.

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