The Snug10th October 2013

Hard of Hearing - Isolating and Lonely

Age related deafness can leave people confused, isolated and lonely

by E.W. James

EW JamesAt 82 years of age,I consider that I have had a quite wonderful life. Not the Ferraris I was hoping for, and the big yacht perhaps, but generally life has been good. It is strange in this civilization of ours, that people who area Deaf or Hard of Hearing receive almost no concern at all. In fact, since I have become Hard of Hearing, I have found that because I do not immediately comprehend what has been said, I am often considered dull, stupid or even mentally unsound and until the situation is explained that opinion persists.

I had my first set of hearing aids in 2004. Like many, my onset of deafness was very gradual and it took others, mainly family members, to convince me that I was not hearing as I should. It started with me not catching everything that was being said in groups, starting to add something to the conversation, only to be told that that had already been said! But of course the ultimate test was the old enemy, the television. My wife started to complain that I had the sound up far too high and it was only when she reduced the volume to a standard that she could tolerate that I had to admit that I did need some help.

I went through the usual tests and was fitted with these ugly, uncomfortable National Health Hearing Aids. They increase the volume but not always the clarity that is required, and sometimes because of the quality of the sound, I just have to turn them off. At a recent check-up, I asked whether I could be considered for a set of the new digital units which I had heard of. The technician seeing to me stated that I was a very long way down the list and it would be at least two years before I would be considered. However, if I attended his private clinic, I could be fitted with these new digital items immediately for £500 (ouch!).

Here I should explain that next month I shall be 83 and a two-year wait seems a very long way off, even assuming I am still around then. I have been a pensioner for some time now and £500 is an awful lot of money to find. So, what am I to do? Well I am not giving up and fading away and becoming one of the thousands who become a recluse, not entirely through their own making.

As I said earlier  I shall  soon be 83 but I am far from the armchair and slippers brigade. At 6.30 a.m. every morning I am one of the first in the local swimming pool where I have a fairly vigorous swim of up to half a mile before going home to get breakfast for both my wife and myself. After a quick look at the newspaper I start or continue with some project or other. I went to Art School for 5 years before teaching and lecturing the subject before retiring as a college Principal. Drawing, painting or other design projects keep me busy, but I got interested in photography as a 13 year old, served as a photographer in the R.A.F. and with the advent of digital photos and the computer I have lots to keep me occupied.

I am not trying to suggest that I am some superman for my age, I am merely trying to indicate that “outsiders'” views of the deaf are irritating and uneccesary. With my deafness, I have realised how badly people speak. Even our exalted newsreaders are often difficult to understand. For example, one of our very attractive and popular lady news readers gradually drops her voice as she gets to the end of the sentence and her last word is often lost.

As a schoolboy I was given a small part in a school play and I well remember the Drama Teacher shouting, “James, you are dropping your voice at the end of the sentence and we cannot hear the most important part. Raise your voice at the end, don't drop it”. He was, I discovered, absolutely right , the last word in a sentence is usually the key word.

People  who work with the public every day can become very sloppy in their speech, because they repeat the same phrases over and over, until a sentence comes out as almost one word such as, “willtherebeanythingelseyoullbewanting”. Not the best example, but those who struggle to hear at the best of times, will know what I mean. Then when I ask them to repeat what they have said, I get annoyed when I get those looks which indicate disgust, or “pity for the old guy”.

Last month I went to the USA to visit our youngest daughter and their family. My grandson was graduating and we were thrilled to attend. As you might imagine for America, it was a very grand affair. Fortunately for me, it was very visual, because even with my NHS hearing aids, I did not hear a single speech or announcement. We only see our USA based grandchildren every 3 or 4 years so communication is important, but they are not used to my deafness. Together with their accent, I scarcely understood 50% of what they said to me, and although we parted amicably, I am sure I was still a stranger to them.

A few weeks ago my wife and I went on an organised train trip to Germany with a group of about 40 people. Everything was great, we had a good hotel, fine weather, and it was a friendly group, but, yet again, whilst I was a member of the party I missed about 80% of the conversation. After dinner each night we would retire to the terrace, chat and tell jokes. I am becoming fairly good at ‘nodding’ at the right time and laughing when a joke has been told, but whilst it was pleasant, it was also hard work. My wife tried her best to keep me informed as to the topics being discussed so I was not completely left in the cold.

All I ask is that having given a life to helping others, I am given the greatest opportunity to maximise the small crumbs of enjoyment that are still available to me. I would like to attract respect and dignity, not the pity that is often shown me now, and accessing more up to date hearing aids, and a better attitude might just allow me to do that!

Article by E.W. James

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / The Snug

10th October 2013