For Mert Endriga, the realization that his hearing ability had declined came during phone converations. He would talk louder and louder.


"When I would talk on the phone everyone would hear me," Endriga said.


So the Citizens Bank vice-president went to Beltone, one of the bank's clients, and had his hearing tested. After being tested by a specialist, Endriga was fitted with two, barely visable hearing aids.


"It's really helped, especially at meetings and conventions," Endriga said last Friday at the grand opening of the new Beltone Hearing Aid Center at 17973 Bear Valley Road in Hesperia.


Acccording to Beltone owner Gary Thomas, most people over the age of 50 have some hearing loss.


"Nerve endings in the ear die off as we get older," he said.


Statistically, men tend to experience hearing loss more frequently than women. While some of that may be due to differences between the sexes, a portion may be sociologically based.


"Guys work on loud engines for instance," Thomas added. "Hearing loss tends to skew more toward men than women."


The new facility -- the Thomas family operates three Beltone offices in Hesperia, Victorville and Rancho Cucamonga -- offers greater flexibility to provide services. That's because the Thomases purchased the land and helped to design the Beltone building from the ground up.


"It's nice. It's the first time we've been able to lay out a business the want we want it."


So far, business is building quickly.


"I'm keeping both rooms busy," said wife Vicki. "In fact all three offices are keeping busy."


Beltone has state-of-the-art testing equipment that enables their specialists to identify a person's specific hearing aid needs. When the Thomases first entered the field in 1991, hearing aid settings were changed with a tiny screwdriver.


"Now there's a computer chip inside," Gary said. "We have a lot more precise control."


Hearing aids have changed the lives of many Beltone customers.


"Now the first thing I do when I wake up is put my glasses on and my hearing aids on," Endriga said.


For more information on Beltone, call 956-9780.