Untreated Hearing Loss

An initiative by Phonak – http://www.hear-the-world.com/

I just loved the movie UP! Not just because it had main characters that were dogs – and ones that could talk at that! Carl, a 70’s something animated actor sported hearing aids and spunk. Mostly the latter…

I recently ran into a 70’s something gentleman at the gas pump. I was leaning against the car waiting for my tank to fill, trying desperately to avoid looking at the high numbers scrolling across the screen as my 12 gallon tank drained my bank account. It was a pretty fall day, so I had the car windows down and was talking to Chloe. She could really care less about the price of unleaded, but she does like to flirt with other people nearby. I caught sight of a low tire, and changed positions so as to look at it better. This gentleman caught my eye and said, “I noticed that too… you need air in that tire”.

With some apprehension I looked around the station and could not see an air pump. I responded, “Oh dear, I don’t see an air pump!”

The gentleman cupped his ear and said, “teardrops and dare what?”

I think my eyes popped wide. Another person with hearing loss! I just beamed at him and turned to face him while repeating, “I don’t see an air pump, do you?”

He dropped his cupped hand and turned in a circle looking around the islands of pumps at the station. “Nope! I don’t see one either. You may have to go to another station and get some air in that tire!”

I pointed to my head and said, “I have a hearing loss too…”

He looked at me quizzically and moved to see the side of my head. “Oh! I thought that was one of those new-fangled gadgets people use to talk into. Is that a hearing aid?”

I beamed again, always excited to share and said, “No. It’s a cochlear implant.” I pointed to my other ear,… “but I have a hearing aid in this ear even though it doesn’t do me much good”.

He shook his head sadly and said, “Yes, I tried them for awhile but all I got was squeals and whistles. I never could hear better.”

Pointing to my CI again I said, “You should go to your audiologist and get evaluated for a cochlear implant. I hear much better than I ever did with just a hearing aid.”

He moved closer to me, still occasionally cupping his ear. I couldn’t tell if he was understanding all I was saying, so I really concentrated on speaking at a moderate pace and clearly. At least as clear as a pronounced southern accent would let me.

He stood within a yard from me and looked longingly at my CI. “If I were young again, I’d get that surgery!”

I put my hand on his arm and said, “Oh! You shouldn’t let age stand in your way. I know plenty of folks who are older who get the CI. They do very well!”

“No… no. I’m too old. It’s too late for me”, he said sadly. His eyes glistened and his chin dropped. It was all I could do not to throw my arms around him and hug him tight. Demonstrations of physical affection and empathetic squeezes were not likely to be accepted by a total stranger. So I restrained my impulses and instead said clearly, “You should think about that some more. It’s the quality of life that matters.”

My tank was full, as was his and cars were in line. I gave him my card and told him to email me. I hope he does.

Untreated Hearing Loss

Untreated hearing loss may result in depression, anxiety, little to no social activity, and insecurity (cited by Zounds). Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, said that deafness cuts one off from people, whereas blindness cuts one off from things. Even those who have received treatment for hearing loss may experience some of these same results, but in different degrees.

I recently went to a small group Bible study and had trouble hearing when I first came in since everyone was talking at the same time. Someone addressed me and I didn’t hear them. They ended up reacting negatively to that and I sat in shock at having been misunderstood and unfairly judged – and “I’m a veteran!” I thought to myself. But I think as a result of taking concrete steps towards hearing better, those of us who have made an effort to communicate with assistive listening devices and technology have also developed coping skills towards dealing with bouts of depression, anxiety, and insecurities. We have very likely also made great strides in being more socially active. In my case, having a negative experience at least meant I could email my peers and belly-ache about it and get some great advice!

But what if your hearing loss is untreated? If your hearing loss began as an adult, do you remember those early days of not hearing well? I sure do. I can tell you they aren’t GOOD memories either. Slowly, but surely I dropped out of nearly everything. When Terry and I first got married we vowed to continue to date. So even after the kids were born, we’d swap baby-sitting favors and go out on dates. After I began losing my hearing (when our 2nd child was born), those dates dwindled away and eventually stopped. I’d have hubby “order in” so that I could eat something I didn’t have to fix but would not have to face the noise of a restaurant. Now that I have a CI, I’m enjoying dining out again.

If you are still a working adult when hearing loss occurs, it can greatly impact your ability to do your job. You can only “fake it” so long. Hearing loss can be treated discreetly and privately. I have met some people at work, church, or in public who I didn’t realize had a hearing loss until they noticed my own “bling” (or hearing assistance dog) and mentioned it to me. For many, disclosing hearing loss is a choice you can make, whether you are at work or another place you often hang out (ballgames, church, community events, etc).

If you know of someone who may have a hearing loss, you may discover they can be stubborn about agreeing to go get evaluated by an audiologist. Encourage them to do so! Many times audiologists will do a hearing test for free. Even if you do not yet need a hearing aid or other technology in order to maximize hearing, it is good to get a baseline audiogram to chart where your hearing is “going”. Not all types of hearing loss are progressive – but then again there are many that ARE. Having a real way to chart what is happening to your hearing is important.

We use to get our hearing checked regularly in school. Because of budget cuts few schools do hearing tests anymore. Parents should be diligent about periodic hearing tests for their children. Especially those who had tubes put in when young, or suffered from numerous ear infections. If hearing loss runs in the family, it is even more important to religiously set up audiograms for members of the family.

Don’t Chalk it Up to “Age”

I have heard many say that they expected some hearing loss when they reached their late 60’s or 70’s. Age-related hearing loss is not uncommon. However, many choose not to do anything about it. Hearing aids have “come a long way baby”. They come in all sizes, shapes, and COLORS. (Yeah, of course I would mention THAT!) They can be worn discreetly or worn all “be-dazzled”. You may find that you hear fine in “most” situations, but perhaps you have trouble understanding and hearing in noisy places. Hearing aids are also able to isolate voices close and zero in on direction of the listener. You’ll never know what is available until you go see an audiologist and talk to them about your options!

If you tried hearing aids and hated them, but know your hearing loss has worsened – please don’t discount cochlear implants without sitting down and talking to recipients. All three cochlear implant manufacturers have message boards and forums in which you can ask questions and discover answers from actual cochlear implant recipients. Age doesn’t matter either – the oldest person I personally knew who was implanted was 87-years-old. I have read stories of others who are even older. A person does need to be healthy enough to undergo outpatient surgery and anesthesia, but age doesn’t disqualify anyone!

The American Academy of Audiology reported the findings of a study done by the National Council on the Aging. Over 2,300 individuals participated in the study, and 2,090 hearing family members were also surveyed. The results of the study can be viewed here. The study noted that, “Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions in the United States, affecting more than nine million Americans over the age of 65 and 10 million Americans age 45 to 64. But about three out of five older Americans with hearing loss and six out of seven middle-aged Americans with hearing loss do not use hearing aids”.

If you or someone you know has a hearing loss, go get an audiogram and information about your hearing loss. What have you got to lose?

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

One thought on “Untreated Hearing Loss

  1. A new study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institute on Aging state that “Hearing Loss is now linked to may other health problems!” According to their studies, people with hearing loss are much more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This study goes on to state that “hearing loss left untreated can lead to loneliness, isolation and depression.”

    I have a very special “deaf friend” who tells me that driving a car is very frightening for him. He has to depend totally on his vision to be able to drive safely.

    If you have a hearing loss, don’t put off another minute. Do something right now to improve the quality of your lifestyle through “Better Hearing.”

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