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Helping the Hard of Hearing

Illustration: teV

This is not a lesson on how to buy a hearing aid or how to choose an audiologist.

It is simply a discussion on whether one should get a hearing aid and how to proceed once you have one (or two, if needed).

I am experienced in wearing hearing aids. I have been hard of hearing for more than 70 years and wearing hearing aids for 60 years. I started with a hearing aid that had a button in my ear attached to a wire which was attached to the card deck-sized amplifier which I put in the middle of my breast, in my bra. Believe me, the boyfriends did not flock around!

Over the years my hearing loss progressed from moderate to severe. About 30 years ago I realized, when speaking with people, I was asking "What?" too often, at which time I knew I needed (and bought) a second hearing aid. I'll never forget the day I added that second hearing aid. It was truly an epiphany.

Some years later, when I replaced my hearing aids, the new digital technology included a setting for concerts (I do love concerts, don't you?) The first time I used this setting at a concert was an eye opener.I found that if I looked at a musician playing his/her instrument (closely watching the fingers fly) I could actually hear the individual instrument! This after a lifetime of hearing only the complete orchestra.

Today, without my hearing aids I cannot hear the person across the table speaking, phones, car horns, and not even an emergency siren.So, for me the hearing aids are a way out of the "box" of silence.

Let me say at the very beginning: hearing aids are NOT a cure for being hard of hearing; there is no cure.

You have to educate yourself by learning: a. to face those who speak to you; b. to focus on those around you when they speak (often you have to make choices on whom to focus).

You also have to educate those around you - spouses and grandchildren included - to face you, not to call/speak to you from another room. Hearing aids increase the level of sound, but not necessarily comprehension of words if you don't face those speaking to you.

It does take work.

The hearing aid design has definitely improved with time, starting with a shofar-like instrument that was put into the ear when one wanted to listen to something, progressing to a button in the ear attached to a card deck-sized battery case by a cord, and today a button or behind the ear apparatus that is almost invisible.

"Hearing loss" is not just whether you can hear sound - loud, soft, in between; it's also the ability to differentiate one sound from another – e.g, t and d, b and p, m and n, s and f (believe me it's hard when you don't hear well). It is also how your ears (and your brain) react to peripheral noise: is the sound clear, and enjoyable, or is it an insufferable mish-mash of noises from which you cannot get away fast enough? Be honest.

If one is very observant, you can see which people are hard of hearing. These are the folks who sit quietly with a group of family or friends and look left out or bored. I can assure you, they are not bored, nor are they senile; they simply cannot follow the conversation.

Most people, as they age, lose some hearing (some more than others). Many will get hearing aids, use them for a while and relegate them to a drawer - for a variety of reasons.

Some don't like the sound, the increased noise, etc. Others, perhaps most, don't even know how to use the hearing aid/s they buy and they don't, for whatever reason, go back to the audiologist for adjustments or instructions. Using hearing aids requires a period of adjustment.

Many people are just too proud to admit the frailties of getting older.

For those of you who are too proud to admit you cannot hear, well, you have choices. You can choose not evento get tested and have the people around you think you are becoming senile, or you can at least get tested, try using hearing aids and have the world open its gates for you. Believe me, that's exactly what will happen. The consequences of not wearing hearing aids if you need them are not pleasant, to put it mildly.

If you are afraid of people "seeing" you with a hearing aid, your fears are ungrounded. I worked in the same bank for 17 years and there were many people, colleagues and clients alike, who didn't even realize I was wearing them. So, you proud people - you have no excuses. Unless you like being in a box of silence.

Of course, you will have to follow items 1 to 5 listed below to ensure full success. It takes time, but it's worth it if one considers the alternative of spending the rest of your life in a box.

So, put pride aside, get tested, and get the hearing aid/s if necessary. You won't be sorry. The concerts - opera or instrumental - will be glorious!

For those of you who put their hearing aids into a drawer, and for those who finally admit they cannot hear well, allow me to suggest the following:

1. If the sound is not comfortable from the beginning, don't let the audiologist tell you it's what you need; explain what you don't like and ask for adjustments to make it more comfortable. There is a trial period of about a month before having to pay (you are free to choose another clinic if you want - I have done this when I felt it necessary).

A note regarding safety: most hearing aids have an adjustment key for telephones. Make sure your hearing aids are adjusted so that one appliance is open at all times, to allow you to walk safely in the streets. It is not safe to walk the streets or cross roads, for example, with both hearing aids adjusted for the phone.

2. If you put it in a drawer because you can't adjust to the increased sound or the sound has become muffled, go back to your audiologist for adjustments and/or cleaning. Cleaning the hearing aid is very important; over time the filters (red for right ear, blue for left ear) become clogged with naturally occurring ear wax. I generally do this every two months.

3. Don't try to wear the new hearing aid all day in the beginning; start with an hour and gradually, over a period of weeks, increase the number of hours per day. Wear the hearing aid when you need it most until you feel ready for all day.

4. At the same time, continue to educate those around you to accommodate your hearing loss. It does take time; being hard of hearing is not readily accepted as a problem.

5. Last, but not least, you must make an effort to focus on those talking to you. It's very easy to sit back and let life pass you by; it is hard, but very rewarding, to concentrate on focusing on those around you. It is also a great brain stimulator.

I cannot repeat often enough, the need for patience (with yourself especially), adjustments, focusing, and training those around you. I assure you the results of your efforts will reward you with a much fuller, happier life.



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Sunday, 21 July 2024

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