The world is loud. As a partial result of this, the typical human aging process involves hearing loss that ranges from mild to severe. And though that loss can be a big problem—"blindness separates people from things," Helen Keller said, while "deafness separates people from people"—it's one that has a solution: Get a hearing aid.
It's a solution that should be both easy and obvious. At this point, hearing aids are relatively advanced; digital technology means that the devices have gotten very good at filtering out background noise, minimizing feedback, and emphasizing human voices in noisy environments. The little machines have become adept, as one audiologist puts it, at making "soft sounds audible, average sounds average, and loud sounds okay to hear."
The main problem with hearing aids, though, has less to do with technology and more to do with culture: Many people who need the aids don't want to get them. They associate them with age. They associate them with ailment. They associate them with the ailment that comes with age. As a result, in a society that values youth above almost all else, the people who can benefit most from hearing aids are often the ones least likely to take advantage of them.