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President of the United States is often said to be the most stressful job in the world, and with that responsibility comes a variety of health issues. From George Washington’s malaria and smallpox to John F. Kennedy’s notorious host of chronic problems, illness and maladies have always plagued the office of the President.

Hearing loss has affected many presidents, and several of our more recent leaders have worn hearing aids, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. Keep reading to find out about the two presidents who wore hearing aids while in office, and a president spreading the gift of hearing around the world.

Ronald Reagan makes hearing aid history

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In 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan famously announced his use of hearing aids and became the first president to wear hearing aids while in office. The New York Times reported on his decision to wear hearing aids publicly and wrote that Reagan’s hearing aids were meant to help with his difficulty in hearing high-pitched sounds.

Reagan’s ear doctor reported that the President’s hearing loss began in the 1930s, during his acting days when a pistol was fired very close to his right ear.

Reagan’s decision to use a hearing aid was mainly propelled by the advances in technology in the 1980s, which made hearing aids much more powerful and much smaller than they had been in the past. Reagan’s public acknowledgment of his hearing aids was a landmark step for the hard of hearing community, as it showed a powerful world leader enjoying and encouraging the use of hearing aids.

President Reagan greatly reduced the negative stigma associated with hearing aids and gave the hearing aid industry positive public recognition.

Bill Clinton promotes the use of hearing aids all over the world

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Bill Clinton was another well-known hearing aid user, first fitted for hearing aids in 1997 during his second term. These first hearing aids were similar to the ones Reagan had chosen 14 years earlier—small, discrete, in-canal hearing aids that helped with hearing the high-frequency sound.

Clinton attributed his hours of band practice and exposure to loud music as part of the reason for his hearing loss, as well as his advancing age (he was 51 years old when he first started wearing hearing aids). The Los Angeles Times reported the news and suggested that the President’s need for hearing aids was “emblematic of the maturing” of the baby boomer generation, of which Clinton was a part.

Today, Clinton remains a passionate proponent of hearing aids, and an active participant with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. He has even traveled to Africa with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, meeting residents of Zambia and Rwanda who have benefitted from their hearing aid campaigns.

Hearing Loss: An issue close to George W. Bush’s heart

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While he doesn’t wear hearing aids himself, hearing loss is an important issue to President George W. Bush. In 2013, Bush joined the Starkey Hearing Foundation in Tanzania to provide custom hearing aids to over 200 hard-of-hearing residents of Tanzania. His daughter, Barbara Bush, participated in a similar mission in Uganda with the Global Health Corps.

George W. Bush’s father and fellow former president, George H. W. Bush, personally suffers from hearing loss and currently wears hearing aids. The elder Bush also signed into law the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which afforded legal protection to people with hearing loss, among other disabilities.

From Ronald Reagan, who reduced the stigma of hearing loss and hearing aids, to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, actively promoting the use of hearing aids in both America and the developing world, hearing loss has played an important role in the US presidency.

Seeing one of the most powerful and influential world leaders face their hearing loss and embrace their hearing aids has been an inspiration to many people, and hopefully will serve as an inspiration for years to come.

By: Elena McPhillips, Updated in 2021 by Kim Smith