Don’t suffer in silence
Deafness is terribly isolating, and causes misery for so many people. All the more important to act quickly, says Terry Redhead.
It is amusing when you ask an elderly relative how he or she is and the reply tells you what they won at the social club bingo last week. But there is nothing remotely funny about being hard of hearing, going deaf or deafness in general.
One person in seven in the UK is deaf or has hearing loss. That’s an estimated nine million people. If you’re concerned that you may be losing your hearing, tackling the problem early can improve your hearing and your quality of life.
People who are fitted with hearing aids early are likely to get more benefit from them than those who put up with hearing loss for years before seeking help.
Despite the fact that deafness can be socially isolating, it can take up to 15 years for people who clearly have hearing loss to get tested. And four million people in the UK have undiagnosed hearing loss, according to Action on Hearing Loss, a UK charity.
A key reason for those long years in denial about deafness is the stigma of hearing loss. Losing your hearing is associated with getting old and there is a perception that hearing aids are old-fashioned and unsightly.
If you have hearing loss, you may feel cut off from the world, and this can lead to depression. Your confidence can also be eroded, causing you to avoid social contact.
Ignoring the problem of hearing loss won’t make it go away. If you’re suitable for a hearing aid, the sooner you start using one, the better it’s likely to work. You benefit more from being fitted with a hearing aid while your hearing loss is relatively mild.
If your hearing seems to be declining, seek help. There is a huge amount of help available, including digital hearing aids, which are smaller and easier to control than previous versions. There are also gadgets including extra-loud landlines and mobile phones, amplifiers and flashing doorbells, sonic boom and vibrating alarm clocks and vibrating watches.
It’s better to start wearing hearing aids sooner rather than later. This is because getting used to amplified sound is harder if you’ve already got used to a quieter world, which means your hearing aid will be less effective.
Hearing loss can result from damage or disruption to any part of the hearing system. Common causes of deafness in adults include presbyacusis (age-related hearing loss due to deterioration of the inner ear), side-effects of medication, acoustic neuroma (a tumour of the nerve which carries hearing signals) and Meniere’s disease.
Common temporary causes include earwax, infection, glue ear and foreign body obstruction. Excessive exposure to noise contributes to problems for up to 50 per cent of deaf people. Often people fail to realise the damage they’re doing to their ears until it’s too late.
Although loud music is often blamed research has also blamed tractors, aircraft noise, shooting and even cordless telephones.
The ability to communicate is an essential part of living in human society. Advances in technology have led to an explosion of devices, gadgets and other methods to help people with hearing loss listen to and talk to others.
Older people are often reticent about using a hearing aid, perhaps reluctant to accept the physical effects of ageing, or concerned about the stigma of deafness or the rough deal that deaf people often get from society.
Even those with a mild decibel loss find lip-reading useful, while people with severe hearing loss often struggle to follow speech even with a hearing aid and may use other communication methods, such as lip-reading, sign language, sign-supported English, cued speech, speech-to-text, text phones and text messaging.
Quite literally, you don’t have to or want to suffer in silence! If you think your hearing is not as good as it once was, go off to your GP and ask for a hearing test.
British Deaf Association – Tel: 0870 770 3300, free textphone: 0800 6522 965 or website: www.britishdeafassociation.org.uk
National Association of Deafened People – Tel: 01227 379538, textphone: 01227 762879
or website: www.nadp.org.uk
Norfolk Deaf Association – 217 Silver Road, Norwich. Tel: 01603 404440, fax: 01603 404433; or website: www.norfolkdeaf.org.uk
Suffolk Deaf Association – 2 Wharfedale Road, Ipswich. Tel: 01473 467780, text: 07733 134176
or website: www.suffolkdeaf.org.uk
Cambridgeshire Deaf Association – 8 Romsey Terrace, Cambridge. Tel: 01223 246237; fax: 01223 411701 or website: www.cambsdeaf.org.uk
The Hearing Care Centre – Tel: 0800 096 2637. The Centre, based in Upper Brook Street, Ipswich, has 18 centres across Norfolk and Suffolk.