The Snug19th February 2014

Help me Please, I'm Going Deaf

Getting older and becoming deaf poses lots of new challenges, but who is there to give advice

by Margaret Pritchard

When I was young, I remember dreading getting old. One thing I really like that has changed in my 76 years is that the definition of old seems to have changed. I might be a little optimistic but I still like to think of myself as being middle aged! But, no matter how well you look after yourself, as you get older you tend to need the NHS services more and more.

‚ÄčOne of the medical issues I face is that I have lost my hearing over the last 8 years through what has been a steady decline. I can still hear ‘noise’, I know it’s there, but I cannot make sense of what that noise in unless it’s very loud indeed. Hearing aids help, but they are far from perfect and they are also clumsy big things that make my ears stick out. I may be getting old, but I still take pride in my appearance, and in hanging onto my vanity for as long as I can, these hearing aids don’t do a lot for how I look I must say.

Gradually losing your hearing is quite a journey in its own right and I am sure that it is a very individual experience for everyone. I have loving family around me, and it is they who finally got me to confront my deafness. Fast approaching my 70’s I used to get confused when my husband came into the room where I was watching TV and asking me why I had the telly loud, “Don’t be daft”, I used to say, “I’ve got it at the same volume I’ve always had it.”

I started to wonder why my husband was starting to whisper to me rather than use those lyrical baritone tones that I fell in love with all those years ago. But those changes were gradual and it was understandable that I wasn’t recognising what was going on. A bigger hint came at holiday time, when my husband and I were always invited to go away with my eldest son and his family. They were wonderful holidays, full of fond memories, but as each annual holiday came and went, I knew that I seemed to be missing out on bits of conversation around the dinner table or at the beach. It was quite worrying because at the time I had no idea what was going on. I was in denial.

My husband finally convinced me to have hearing tests and they identified what was happening. Hearing aids were suggested, but being vain, and not wanting to be labelled as deaf, I resisted, “I’ll be fine. I will learn to lip-read.” I wasn’t fine, far from it, and slowly but surely I started to miss out on things that were being said by my children, grand children, friends and lots of other people. I couldn’t have the conversations I longed for with my grandchildren that I wanted, to tell them about my childhood and share some of my memories.

Run forward to the current day and my reason for writing is to raise the issue of advice and information for people who are losing their hearing. When I attend a health event these days, I always see long queues of elderly people lined up to speak to someone at the Action on Hearing Loss display table. The information they seek is advice about the range of ‘aids to hearing equipment’ that are out there.

For me I must have bought 10 different sets of ear phones to plug into the television to help me hear what was being said. None of them worked well. When my husband was out of the house, what I can do to know that the fire alarm has gone off? Is there a vibrating alarm clock I can use? What telephones are available that would help me? Should I learn sign language and if so where? Are there lip-reading courses I can go to? Where can I go to meet people like me, where we can share experiences and learn from each other? Should I just use the NHS audiology services or should I go private? What are the benefits of going private? Which hearing aid is best for me? Can I get hearing aids in different colours. One to match my hair would be nice.

These are all questions being asked of the people who are at the Action on Hearing Loss stand, because that information is not provided anywhere else. I was one of the lucky ones who attended an event they were at, but thousands of other Hard of Hearing elderly people don't go to events like this, and they still wont have access to the help and advice they need.

I’ve asked some of those questions at my GPs, but even if they have the time, it seems to be that the doctors and staff don't have the knowledge to help me. I’ve asked my audiologist with the usual answer being, "Let me just concentrate on what we need to get done today first," only to be shown the door when that is done as they move onto their next patient. It feels a bit like a sheep dipping exercise, pushed through to do the job in hand with little time to do anything else that might be value added.

I worked my whole life serving this country and I still genuinely believe that I have a lot to offer my children and my grand children. I hope to still be around and be ‘value added’ when the great grand kids arrive, but I don't feel that my hearing loss is anyone’s priority. No one seems to be there with the responsibility to help me make the best of it, to get the best hearing aids for me and the best ‘aid to hearing’ equipment. Wonderful institutions like the Women’s Institute seem ill-equipped to help their volunteer members with issues like becoming deaf. There seems little in the way of understanding of my communication needs, even in organisations as wonderful as that.

With so many of our senior citizens losing their hearing and with the forecast being that the situation is going to worse, I hope things can change to help and support people like me. Losing my hearing later in life is a big issue I am ill-equipped to deal with, but I really do think that more should be done to help people like me make sense of my changing world. 

Article by Margaret Pritchard

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / The Snug

19th February 2014