September 17, 2018

To Wear or not to Wear?

Not sure if you need help with your hearing? Read on.

One of our clients, and a good friend of the Practice, is Gordon Paterson.

We’ve worked with Gordon over many years, he’s been very supportive of our work and has acted as an ambassador for our holistic approach on several occasions. You can see him speak about his experiences with the Hearing Healthcare Practice HERE.

Gordon is a fantastic advocate for a proactive and enlightened approach to hearing and hearing healthcare.

If you are feel your hearing needs attention and are putting off a trip to the audiologist, please do read what he has to say.

Why is there resistance to wearing hearing aids?

“The urge to write about the reluctance of some people to embrace hearing aid technology to address a loss of hearing has come about from a number of conversations I have had in recent times with (mainly) male friends who acknowledge that their hearing isn’t as good as it used to be, but appear unwilling to do something proactive about it. As a long and experienced user of hearing aids, with a significant high frequency hearing loss that arose shortly after birth, I feel I can offer an insight to how it feels and the psychological issues that arise and why people might be resistant to doing something positive to address the reality that one of our five primary senses isn’t functioning as it should.

I’ve been told by my audiologist that typically it can be as long as eight years between the time that one’s hearing starts to deteriorate to when one is fitted with hearing devices.  This is eight years during which one gradually feels more and more socially isolated as conversation becomes increasingly more challenging. Social events that one would previously have looked forward to attending become occasions that one starts to dread and seek reasons to avoid. The increasingly louder TV that is an early sign of hearing loss stymies conversation and leads to deteriorating relationships, and that’s before you try to agree what channel you both want to watch! It is also estimated that one in six of us has a hearing loss of some kind. In reality you and I are part of a very large group of people in the country. That means that about 10 million of us in the UK share a common problem. We just don’t realise we are in good company and we all need to do something about it!

What has struck me is the often-different attitudes displayed to the idea of getting a pair of glasses when sight deteriorates and getting hearing aids prescribed when our hearing needs a helping hand. The curious thing is that some people appear to treat their sense of hearing as an optional ‘extra’ when after sight, hearing is cited by many as the second of their five basic senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste) that they would least like to lose. It is integral to our ability to function as social beings. We all like to belong and engage with those around us by understanding what is being spoken and participating in and enjoying the conversation. I know all too well the frustration of being on holiday abroad struggling to understand what is spoken in a language I don’t understand and this is what it can feel like.

The struggle to hear clearly when one’s hearing starts to deteriorate leads to the brain having to work that much harder to piece together the words spoken to make sense of them and to then to be able to form an appropriate response. This in itself is very tiring. This quickly leads to guessing what is being said, trying to fill in the gaps in the sentences without asking for the speaker to repeat what was said, or to speak lounder.  Typically, this happens more frequently if one is in a noisy environment like a pub or restaurant or sitting in the back of a car when you cannot see their face. The results can sometimes be embarrassing if you guess wrong and say sometime that doesn’t connect with the conversation.

A number of friends have commented that wearing a hearing aid is symbolic of one getting older. Yes, that may be true (the reality is that I aged very slightly during the time it took in writing this piece!) but then our joints start to creak, our hair starts to go grey and so forth!  However, very many people, including myself, have used them most or sometimes all of our lives and will vouch for the hugely positive impact that this ever-advancing technology has had on our quality of life. The amusing thing is that a number of people have been curious as to my interest in audiology when I talk about it – only to then discover that I wear hearing aids! They simply didn’t know!

It seems to me that there are several ‘hurdles’ that people need to aware of when first wearing hearing devices. Whereas wearing glasses seems second nature to most of us because we already wear sunglasses to protect our sight in the sun, and as a fashion accessory, the physical sensation of having something sitting in our ear canal feels very new, and initially quite strange.  It’s a little bit like putting your watch on the other wrist – you notice the presence of something being different, the weight of it and how it feels on your other arm. What may surprise you is how quickly you get used to this new physical sensation. I have on more than one occasion totally forgotten to remove them before jumping into a swimming pool on a hot day. Not to be recommended but fortunately it was the shallow end! In reality, these devices are pretty robust and a few hours in a dehumidifying device did the trick and I was back on stereo surround sound again!

The second thing one needs to be aware of, is that whilst new glasses provide an instant, usually perfect correction of sight issues, the process of achieving the ideal level of hearing amplification takes time and patience. This is the key thing to remember. Don’t be surprised if your initial reaction isn’t as positive as you might have hoped. New sounds and new amplification at the first fitting can be overwhelming and be a bit of a shock to the brain which is trying to make sense of the new sounds, what they are and how far away they are coming from. A skilled audiologist will help introduce amplification to the areas of sound that you need help with on a gradual basis. They will consider your reaction to the different environments you experience and work with you to deliver the best possible settings that you are comfortable with. It takes time and your brain will get increasingly more comfortable with your louder and clearer world. Think crash diets and new exercise regimes – they are a shock to the body’s system, but bring a change to your diet gradually and build up slowly your new fitness program and the body doesn’t protest too much!

I am very much aware that the heightened physical sensation of wearing hearing aids initially can make one feel that you have two ginormous objects sticking out of your ears that people around you will be totally transfixed by, a bit like that scene in Alien! The reality is that so many people such as newscasters, couriers, bus and van drivers, musicians, sports coaches, medical staff, and even 007 himself wear devices in their ears. We totally accept them for their functional purpose. Hearing aids are seen as being no different. What people are more likely to notice is if you do not hear them or respond in an appropriate way or indeed appear to be ignoring them. I recall rebelling as a teenager and not wearing my hearing aids for a while because I didn’t want to be different from my contemporaries. The result was that I became more withdrawn and appeared to be distant and maybe a bit aloof. Hearing in class became more challenging and my grades suffered. Not a good move!

The sensation of hearing new sounds, hearing more conversation clearly with less effort and your favourite piece of music will bring a big smile to your face and improve your confidence no end! I’ve been lucky enough, thanks to my great friends at the Hearing Healthcare Practice, to be able forget that I have a hearing loss. Indeed, thanks to the incredible technology packed into these continually evolving devices, I cope better with noisy environments than my friends with ‘normal’ hearing. Indeed, the cleverness of hearing technology is at times mind blowing! I can control my hearing experience from my mobile phone and indeed take phone calls in stereo without other people knowing, listen to podcasts and music remotely with no wires to get in the way – how cool is that?!

My advice is simply this – embrace the technology and enjoy life again! Audiologists are very aware and sympathetic to the resistance to hearing devices that some of us put in the way. Often it is misplaced vanity about how we look with them that prevents people from helping themselves and indeed their relationships with their nearest and dearest. Actually, people really don’t care if you wear hearing devices. They have more important things on their mind! Sometimes it’s impatience and not realising that it is a gradual process that can take several months. It can feel a long journey but it is definitely a very well while one taking!

The reality is that millions of us use hearing aids and have enjoyed such a wonderful benefit that we often wonder why more people don’t use them!”

Gordon Paterson 2018