It is far preferable to listen to clear speech in clear noise than distorted speech in distorted noise. – Mead Killion. PhD.

Dear Reader,

I’ve been diagnosed with Sensorineural (or nerve) deafness and started wearing hearing aids at the age of 10. It is caused by damage to the auditory nerve that runs to the brain. This means that sounds are blocked at the dead nerve and doesn’t complete the full path to the brain.

This type of hearing loss mostly causes problems hearing speech. This means that it is difficult to follow conversations, regardless of one-to-one or groups and difficulty to hear in noisy environments. Since it also affects balance it often leads to dizziness and clumsiness. Typically, it is easier to hear male than female voices.

We don’t know the cause of this hearing loss, but since my older brother also has the same condition, we suspect there might be a hereditary factor. But it can also be caused by exposure to very loud noises or an infection like scarlet fever.

My first hearing aids were much different from the digital ones I am wearing today. They had a limited range which means that they needed to be replaced as my hearing degraded and moved out of this range.

The biggest problems with the old, analogue hearing aids were the fact that it increased ALL sounds. This means that everything that you can actually hear, you now hear at double volume. At the same time, it increases the sound of speech to a level that can be heard by the user.

This leads to extreme fatigue as you are constantly bombarded by all the noise in the environment and have to constantly focus on the person talking to you in order to follow the conversation. Lip reading is an invaluable aid (which all of us use), but the hearing disabled person can’t live without.

This is why it is important that when you communicate with a hearing disabled person, you always make sure you have his attention before you start talking. Do not cover your mouth and make sure they are looking at you before you start talking.

Due to this, you can imagine that talking on the phone can be quite a nightmare, especially because a lot of people don’t talk very clearly and don’t direct their speech into the phone’s receiver. Then I am not even talking about how sometimes I can hear something totally different to what was actually said.

This is why I personally will never consider a Personal Assistant, receptionist or switchboard position. Most of the time, I don’t catch the person’s name and trying to take down details correctly, is an impossible feat. Especially because so many words and numbers sound very similar and are hard to distinguish.

Another problem is that I can’t determine the direction of where a sound comes from. So you might be calling me, and I might actually hear you, but I can’t find you as I can’t determine the direction you are calling from.

A big irritation is the constant whistling (feedback) from the hearing aids. This is caused when the earpieces don’t fit 100% in the ear, for example, because the muscles in your ear move when eating, smiling etc.

Physical education periods was no fun neither. Being out in this wide open space and not always being close to a teacher didn’t make it easy to follow instructions. In moving sports like hockey, you stood no chance at all. And swimming class! Oh horror! Even though I love swimming – at home in our own swimming pool – at school, not so much. Since hearing aids are not waterproof it needs to be removed before swimming! This obviously renders you unable to communicate in any way!

With time you learn different skills to cope. Except for lip reading, you become very good at guessing the meaning of a sentence if you manage to catch the most important keywords in a sentence.

What is very annoying is if you ask a person to repeat himself, and he starts talking louder or over-pronouncing himself. This only makes matters worse because we can only lipread natural speech and talking louder only hurts my ears! A better way to respond is to rephrase or replace your keywords with different words that might be easier to hear!

Battling to hear often leads to social isolation. The hearing-impaired person start to avoid social situations where possible due to noise fatigue from the noisy environment and since the constant struggle to follow conversations can be very exhausting!

Getting my first set of digital hearing aids (at the age of 41) changed my life!

Even though there was a concern that I will battle to adjust due to me being used to volume, I took to the new technology instantly.

The main difference is where the analogue hearing aids give you more volume, digital makes sound clearer. It is like the difference between the old analogue radios and stereo sound!

I will never forget when they switched it on for the 1st time and an ambulance went by in the street outside. Normally the sound of any siren made me cringe, but now it was just like a noise in the street.

After the fitting, my husband and I went for lunch at the Wimpy in Alberton City. Previously we would just eat and leave, due to me not being able to communicate in such a noisy environment. I was amazed that this extremely noisy environment has become just background noise and that I could actually hear the people at the table next to me talking!

I couldn’t hear what they say, but I could hear them talking!

It felt as if I was living in an entirely new world. I keep on asking my husband about all the little sounds that I know suddenly could hear. A tap dripping, the sound of my dog’s nails on the floor, and so many more!

Digital hearing aids made an end to the irritating feedback and with it, you also get different profiles, optimized to different environments.

There is a profile for when you go and see a movie, or go to a concert, or just watch TV at home. And another profile for when you travel. This profile reduces noise like the sound of the tires on the road or the wind blowing past your windows. In this way, it enables you to still hear people talking or listening to the radio.

Digital technology in the hearing aids allow sounds to be separated into different frequency bands and each of these can then be amplified selectively. It enables different amounts of amplification for soft, moderate and loud sounds. Due to digital signal processing amplification occurs with minimal distortion.

This means that the digital hearing aid can now be programmed according to the specific hearing loss of the user and special features (profiles) can be fine-tuned. This is done by using hearing aid software provided by the hearing aid supplier. The hearing aids are now customized for the hearing loss, preference and lifestyle of the user.

I am very grateful for this amazing technology and the big difference it has made in my life. Generally I hear better, I am able to hear bigger parts of conversations and follow along. But in the end, it is still just an aid – and I will never be able to hear as well as a normal hearing person.

So, a lot of the challenges remain. And there are still certain things I will never be able to do, like falling asleep listening to the rain or music – as I have to remove my hearing aids before going to sleep. I still can’t communicate when swimming – as hearing aids still are not waterproof!

But overall, I am grateful – because in spite of this disability – I have always managed to live a pretty, normal life!

Do you know anyone with a hearing disability? I hope this post has given you some insight into the challenges they face. Please share so that we can create more awareness for the deaf and hearing disabled!

Thanks for reading,

Susan

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