Often we don’t realise we are quite deaf until that beloved, but brave, family member or friend erupts with frustration or sits you down to have one of those conversations about the impact your hearing loss is having on others.
Hearing impairment can seem like an irritation for another person. The subtleties of it mean you can live awkwardly with it for quite some time until one day you find someone shouting at you, just because you have the TV up louder than they would. I know myself, I found I became defensive around my family as they often mumbled in conversations and what they experienced seemed to be incongruent with my friends. I did, however, start to notice that I was struggling in group meetings and noisy environments and tended to nod and agree without always hearing what was being said. That came to a head when I said yes to something ridiculous and I was caught out!
Then one day I saw an ad in the paper for a free hearing test and a free trial of hearing aids. I told a friend I was going, and she offered to come with me. We went along and I did the test, which took around 30 minutes. This gave the audiologist the results they needed to find out what the issue was. To trial some devices, I sat in a room where I would not normally be able to hear traffic noise. By wearing the hearing aids the environment suddenly came alive to me. It was actually quite intense and my personal space was invaded. I heard traffic and my friend seemed loud. I felt quite threatened by ‘normal noise’. My brain wasn’t used to being alert to all the environmental sounds around me. The silence that had become my companion suddenly deserted me.
Getting hearing aids was impeded by denial and the cost. When I eventually got them (with full Enable funding) there was some initial discomfort as the fine tubing over the ear was rubbing delicate skin, but it did dissipate within a couple of weeks. Despite the small dramas, having hearing aids far outweighs any of the hurdles I had to navigate. The most incredible feedback I got was from someone I worked with. She told me she thought I was often dismissive or ignored what she said. In retrospect she realised I wouldn’t have heard her. I’d never want to be in that place again.
My advice is to get a hearing test, especially when you get your Gold Card. Over 55% of people over 65 have significant hearing loss. Shop around – different suppliers will have their own tests and prices. The Ministry of Health fund hearing therapists through Life Unlimited and I thoroughly recommend this service if you want some impartial help navigating the journey.
Elder Care Canterbury Coordinator
Presbyterian Support Upper South Island