Listen up: why hearing problems deserve your attention
Having your hearing restored can be an incredibly emotional experience
Photograph: Getty Images
Listen. Can you hear the traffic murmuring by your office? Or the familiar click as the kettle boils? Or the sound of someone calling your name from another room? Things we take for granted, ordinary, everyday things, are an overwhelming struggle for those with hearing loss.
Audiologist Jeff Walbran is Hearcare Director of Specsavers Hearcare in Drogheda, Navan, Mullingar, Dundalk, Monaghan, Balbriggan and Blanchardstown. He has more than 23 years’ experience and said that he often finds when people are first fitted with hearing aids they have an incredibly emotional reaction. He has seen some men, who have not heard properly in years, sit and weep.
“It is a realisation that they have been missing out. The thing is that a lot of these people, in missing out, they withdraw. They withdraw from society, effectively; that is what happens. They think, well the family is there for Christmas, they can’t hear them, just sit back in the chair and forget about it. And it can get out of hand, it can lead to depression and so forth. You will find that some elderly people get very emotional about it. To some people, it is a big, big thing.”
Hearing loss is surprisingly common. However, the average person will take between five and seven years before they address a hearing problem, says Walbran. He says two of the biggest indicators that you have a hearing problem are if you have to have the TV volume at a very loud level and people are asking you to turn it down. “Or when you are turning around to people and saying ‘stop mumbling’.”
“A lot of people don’t realise they have a hearing problem. Your hearing goes down slowly, so often you don’t notice it. It is the people around you that notice it, relatives or close friends. Very often you will find that the person sitting there [with the hearing problem] doesn’t say much and the person sitting beside them is the one who is doing all the talking.
“With the people we meet through groups like Active Retirement, the ICA and Men’s Sheds, you can draw conclusions that a lot of the women, even when they retire, they all stay friends, but the men don’t, for whatever reason. It’s the men that seem to struggle more, and the fact that they haven’t been able to hear that well which does sort of go hand in hand with the isolation.”
Specsavers is best known for its eyecare but has been providing hearing care for 10 years within each Specsavers branch nationwide.
“As part of someone’s eyesight test here, they have a preliminary hearing check as well, which takes three minutes on a hearing screener. And that will tell them if they need to seek further advice or not. If they do need to seek further advice, we have a qualified Hearcare assistant who will check them for wax and give them information on hearing instruments and book them an appointment for further assessment if needed.”
Because everyone’s hearing is different, the Hearcare assistants use a number of techniques and the latest technology to tailor your hearing care to your individual needs.
The first part of your hearing assessment is video otoscopy. Walbran takes a careful look with a tiny camera in your eardrum to examine the health of your ear canals and ear drums, ensuring that sound has a clear pathway through to the delicate structures of the middle and inner ear. After an overview of your medical history, you go into a soundproof booth, put on a set of headphones and every time you hear a sound, click a button.
There is a certain stigma attached to hearing problems, or having a hearing aid. However the days of the big, clunky, clam shell contraptions are gone. Today, if you do need a hearing aid, they are discreet and use sophisticated technology.
When having a hearing aid fitted, Specsavers uses Real Ear Measurement (REMs) to account for the individual acoustic characteristics of the ear canals. A special microphone analyses the sounds produced by the hearing aids in the ear canal to ensure you are getting the optimum level of amplification. And because hearing loss occurs naturally in both ears, they give you two hearing aids, programmed to work together for the clearest sound possible.
Hearing tests are free and you do not need an appointment for the screening – you can just call in to any Specsavers store. So there is no excuse to waste any more time missing out on life – start listening to all its sounds, every last one.