For two years, 76-year-old Austin Theriot fought the idea of wearing hearing aids. He thought they were expensive, bulky and just plain ugly. Earlier this year, an appointment at the University of Houston Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic (USLHC) changed his mind and, ultimately, his life.

“If you know someone is wearing a hearing aid, you are going to treat them differently, and you tend to talk louder,” Theriot explained. “If people don’t know you have one, they will talk to you naturally.”

UH audiologist and associate clinical professor Chereece Andrews says without listening devices, older patients like Theriot risk losing more than just their ability to hear. Hearing-impaired individuals may experience social isolation, which increases the risk of cognitive decline.

“With hearing loss, the area of the brain that processes and receives sound can shrink if it doesn’t receive adequate sound stimulation,” said Andrews. “The brain isn’t getting a complete signal for it to process words well. You will see a change in brain structure and brain function.”

A pair of hearing aids can cost upwards of $8,000. At the USLHC, which is underwritten by the United Way of Greater Houston, patients can participate in a hearing aid assistance program, which allows them to pay for treatment on a sliding scale.

For Theriot, who was able to buy his hearing aids at a reduced price, the world he’s lived in for nearly eight decades suddenly seems new again.

“It’s a whole new world, and I enjoy listening to what’s going on in the world.”

The USLHC assists adults and children ages 10 and up who may have hearing difficulties. The clinic provides diagnostic services, hearing aid evaluation and selection. In addition, diagnostic services and treatments are available for children and adults suspected of having communication disorders.