Recently I had my hearing tested because I was unable to understand what my 4 year old grand-daughter was saying, nor did I always realise someone was talking to me if they were in another room. I delayed my first visit to an audiologist, justifying that the hearing problem was due to wax build-up to which I am prone.
It’s five months since I turned 70, and three since my elderly mother passed. Her struggle with hearing aids filled me with dread … she often took them out because she said they didn’t help, and so images of age and hearing loss and difficulties with hearing aids flooded in … alongside the hope that the appliances would, in my case, compensate for the loss as promised.
Which sets me pondering about health and the seventies, because I have always felt that in the seventies the body talks back to us loudly. In my case, hearing loss was masked by the fact that I lived alone until about six months ago. I would only see my grandchildren on occasions, until this situation changed when the youngest, who is 4, moved in with me with her mother. I also work with people from diverse cultures so I’d put my misunderstandings down to their accents. I was not accountable.
I avoided noisy restaurants and celebrations as it was exhausting trying to keep up with conversations, and frustrating as I missed more than I heard. I found myself smiling and nodding a lot due to my difficulty in hearing. Again, I blamed the situations as the problem. I literally did not ‘hear’ that my hearing needed attending to until an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist told me to have a hearing test. I went to him to discuss wax. That was an expensive exercise!
It seems I am not alone in this stubborn denial. I read in the literature that many people put up with hearing problems and become socially isolated as a result.
I often found myself guessing what was said – and getting it very wrong, but it was my daughter who reflected this back to me; I’m sure others were far too polite! I used to notice my mother doing that all the time, and in the end it was easier to let it slide than to keep repeating myself or initiate conversations on unfamiliar topics. Other feedback was that I’d often talk louder than needed, especially on the phone when I was straining to hear, just like my mother did.
My initial hearing test appointment felt too rushed and it was difficult to comprehend what was going on. I walked out of the audiology clinic only half understanding what had been delivered. I felt overwhelmed, faced with choices about the level of hearing aid required based on lifestyle needs that I did not fully understand how to evaluate … and I was in shock at the cost involved. Eventually, I talked to a neighbour and realised I needed to shop around.
I took the time to research online, talked to a friend about her experience and then sought a second opinion. This audiologist was understanding and spent two hours doing the tests, explaining and answering questions so that I felt very clear about what my choices were. She was honest and made clear my minimum starting point that could be sufficient short-term, and what would serve me best, so I could make a choice suited to my budget. And then I had time to go away and consider the options without pressure. I left feeling empowered and confident to choose the best device for my needs, and with a determination to be patient with the process of making friends with my new hearing aid. Some days I wake up and think, oh, I’ll put it in later, and then forget. But I get caught out, especially on the phone, and can let myself and others down.
I can now relax more when around my grandchildren, family and also in the work place, in meetings or at training sessions. Straining to hear is tiring, so that is no longer happening. Mis-hearing conversations saps confidence and joy. My hearing is not perfect and I have learned that hearing happens in the brain and therefore it takes time, up to 12 weeks for the brain to adjust to hear with a hearing aid. As such it is not an instant and perfect solution, but the immediate effects are significant and are well worth the patience and persistence. What I have learned from my experience is that it is worth taking time to find an independent audiologist who can offer the space and support that’s right for you.
I now view wearing my hearing aid as a choice to maintain my connection with people and life rather than retreat into my own world.
It is a life transition that needs to be honoured. I can now enjoy the high notes once again, as well as contributing to conversations with confidence. I fully appreciate that my connection with others is important to my quality of life in my 70’s and beyond.
Anne H., Australia
For more information about hearing aid options, you may like this article:
How to Buy the Best Hearing Aid for You