I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. I just have to put my glasses on.

Hi, I am Jane, I’m 56, and I’m at the height of my career, having been a Director for a local company and now running my own business….and I wear a hearing aid.  I want to tell you what it feels like to have a hearing aid from my point of view.  And I hope at the end of this blog that 1 of 3 things might happen. But I’m not going tell you what they are until the end.

I’m not greedy, but I actually have two hearing problems. The first one is tinnitus in the left ear, which I have had for many years.  I am lucky because it doesn’t stop me sleeping or concentrating, unlike some people whose lives are seriously affected by it.  The second problem is poor hearing in my left ear is poor.  Put very simply, I actually have above average hearing for background noise (such as a car passing, or a kettle boiling or a door slamming).  But very poor hearing for softer sounds, such as hearing you speaking to me.  If someone is sitting next to me, talking, and a door closes on the other side of the room, the words being said to me are obliterated by the door’s noise. If I sit in a meeting and someone coughs, I cannot hear what is being said over the noise of the cough.  If I am standing by a water cooler, the noise of the water coming out of the water cooler will interfere with that is being said to me.  If I am networking, I hear the hum of the general conversation rather than the person speaking directly to me.

I feel so isolated.

I ignored the tinnitus for many years.  But then three things happened that made me realise that I had to do something about my hearing.  The first was that I could no longer hear what people said at networking events – a vital part of my work.  I felt completely isolated particularly at dinner parties.  I was becoming the quiet one, because it was impossible to have a naturally flowing conversation with anyone.  The second was an article I read that suggested that people with poor hearing were more likely to get dementia.  The third was that I read another article that said the earlier you got a hearing aid, the better you adapted to it.  So, having got my referral from my doctor, off to the hearing clinic at Musgrove I trotted.  And what an eyeopener it was.

Firstly, I had no idea just how complex our hearing is.  Secondly, I had not realised that everyone’s hearing problem is slightly different.  (Lightbulb moment.  So, my hearing problem was different from my Mums problem, and my Mums problem was different from my Dad’s).  Well – who knew.  I suppose it’s obvious when you think about it.  But, precisely that, I had never thought about it.

Things I did not expect:

  1. That my hearing aid would come flying out of my ear and across the room each time I took my Covid-19 facemask off. There just isn’t room for a hearing aid, a pair of glasses and my mask strap behind my left ear.  Solution – I don’t bother wearing my hearing aid when I wear my mask.  The facemask wins hands down. Face masks and hearing aids are seriously incompatible.
  2. I thought that my hearing would be completely sorted once I had my hearing aid fitted. Wrong. Don’t get me wrong; my hearing aid helps, but it certainly does not fix my hearing.
  3. When you first get your hearing aid, everything sounds so loud. I had forgotten how beautifully the birds sing. A spoon clattering to the floor is absolutely deafening.
  4. To have to take extra care when crossing roads. I was not prepared for the distortion of the direction of sound.  So sometimes I cannot work out which way a car is approaching or even if it is a car that I am actually hearing.
  5. I had no idea how fiddly maintaining a hearing aid would be. Minute tubes to be unscrewed, tiny pipes to be fed through tiny tubes.   Little slots to fit tiny batteries in.  I regularly say to my husband, “If I am 56 and I struggle with this every week, how on earth is someone of 80 supposed to cope”.
  6. How quickly the batteries run out. Less than a week – I am forever changing them.
  7. How much I rely on lip reading. I hear better when I wear my glasses.

So how can you help:

  1. Be patient with people who wear hearing aids. They are not a fix-all.
  2. Don’t get cross if your parent or partner has not cleaned their hearing aid recently. It is incredibly fiddly.
  3. We all partially lip read. Don’t turn away from someone if you are speaking.  If you are giving a work presentation, don’t turn to the screen while still talking.
  4. Keep your fingers away from your mouth when you speak and be aware that if you choose to grow a beard that will make it harder for someone who relies on lip reading as their back up tool.
  5. Ask what would make it easier for someone to hear you. As I said, we are all different, so what works for one person might not work for another.  For me, attending networking breakfasts is easier than networking dinners, which tend to be noisier. But it could be sitting in a particular part of the room.  Away from the door maybe, or away from the window.
  6. Don’t assume that a person with a hearing aid is unfriendly. Hearing loss is so isolating.  It can be a relief for someone with hearing difficulties to talk to someone in a quiet place rather than a loud party.
  7. The work social (going for a drink after work, or the Christmas Party) can be very isolated for someone with hearing loss.
  8. I don’t know if this is the same for everyone, but my ears can no longer stand very loud noise. I used to love loud music, but now I will bow out of going to a club or pub with load music.  It’s no fun anymore when it makes your ears hurt.

So, what are the three things that I hope this blog will help you realise?

Number 1 – that business owners may begin to have some conception of what it is like to have an employee who has poor hearing and what you might do to help them.

Number 2 – if anything here sounds familiar then you should get your hearing checked.

Number 3 – if you know someone who is partially deaf, you will make some small changes to make things easier for them.

Thanks for reading.

Study Sharpe helps organisations recognise the importance and benefit of embracing the Equality Act in their business operations.

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