Losing your hearing can be extremely frustrating. The symptoms of hearing loss can be socially debilitating, and emotionally isolating for patients living with the affliction. They may include muffled speech from others; trouble understanding words, especially when in a crowded, noisy place; trouble hearing the letters of the alphabet that aren’t vowels; frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly, or loudly; needing to turn up the volume on the television or radio; being bothered by background noise; ringing in the ears (commonly known as tinnitus); and avoiding social settings.
“If you have a sudden loss of hearing, particularly in one ear, seek medical attention right away.
Talk to your health care provider if loss of hearing is causing you trouble. Age-related hearing loss happens little by little. So, you may not notice it at first.” (mayoclinic.org, 2023*)
Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, encroaches slowly, making life gradually more miserable as the days go by.
“Hearing loss can make life less pleasant. Older adults with hearing loss often report being depressed. Because hearing loss can make it harder to talk with others, some people with hearing loss feel cut off from others. Hearing loss is also linked to loss of thinking skills, known as cognitive impairment.”*
Rachel Burns, BSc, Audiologist at Bermuda Hearing Services, discloses that age-related hearing loss is what she treats most, saying, “The most common cause of hearing loss I see in my facility is age-related hearing loss, and noise-induced hearing loss.”
Ms Burns advises persons who are concerned that they may be losing their hearing that the best thing to do is to get a baseline hearing test, and go from there.
Bermuda Hearing Services offers an array of solutions for hearing loss, not least of which is testing to determine what hearing aid would best suit each client, and fitting them accordingly.
“Untreated hearing loss can significantly impact a person’s quality of life; it is often associated with social isolation and cognitive decline. Hearing aids not only improve your hearing but they reduce listening effort, and reduce the risk of auditory deprivation.”
Ms Barbara Steede is a patient of Bermuda Hearing Services, and someone who has endured many of the social-emotional pitfalls of age-related hearing loss. She shared her hearing loss story, and the accompanying frustrations, here:
“I first noticed my hearing was declining in my fifties, when my family and friends pointed out to me that I kept asking people to repeat themselves. They thought that I should get it checked. I really didn’t pay it any attention until I reached my sixties, by which time my children started to get ‘angry’ at me because I kept asking the same things over and over.
“So that’s why I went and had it looked at, and it was determined that I had an issue with my hearing. I was set up with some hearing aids – which I hate!”
Many older Bermudians will be able to relate to Ms Steede’s testimony, especially when it comes to being resentful of the need to use intrusive technology to have a simple conversation with people they’ve cared for their entire lives. It doesn’t seem fair – but it is necessary.
Ms Steede describes the role of Bermuda Hearing Services in her story:
“My experience with Bermuda Hearing Services was great! They were very patient, they were very thorough, and whatever questions I had, they were able to answer. So, they were able to resolve my issues by prescribing hearing aids, and determining the best hearing aids for me.
“I actually still use them up until today, and they work fine – when I wear them; because I really don’t like them, and I try not to wear them, unless I have to. But, like I said, my children and my family insist that I wear them so that I don’t keep saying, ‘Huh? Huh?’ and get told off about it.”
Squabbles with family and friends aside, Ms Steede does confess that the hearing aids, and thereby her treatment from Bermuda Hearing Services, have had a positive impact on her quality of life.
“My quality of life has improved since I got my hearing aids – when I wear them! I guess I should make a valiant effort to start wearing them more often, because I do realize, and notice, that it does make a big difference.”
Reiterating the frustration that hearing loss can generate, Ms Steede puts further emphasis on how relationships can be affected by the condition.
“The only issue I have with my hearing loss now is that when I don’t hear something, and I ask for it to be repeated, my children and my family get mad at me and it frustrates me because I feel that they don’t realize that it’s a real problem. I really don’t like when they shout at me and say, ‘Put in your hearing aids!’ Other than that, I’ve come to accept it. I’m learning to live with it and I’ll continue to do the best that I can.”
Another common type of hearing loss is noise-induced hearing loss. According to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, loud noises, whether constant or sudden, present many risks to your hearing.
“Loud noise. Being around loud sounds can damage the cells of the inner ear. Damage can happen by being around loud noises over time. Or the damage can come from a short blast of noise, such as from a gunshot.
“Noises on the job. Jobs where loud noise is constant, such as farming, construction, or factory work, can lead to damage inside the ear.
“Noises at play. Exposure to explosive noises, such as from firearms and jet engines, can cause immediate, permanent hearing loss. Other activities with dangerously high noise levels include snowmobiling, motorcycling, carpentry, or listening to loud music.”*
Loud noises are bad for your ears! All of our senses are susceptible to wear and tear over time, and subjecting our hearing to the constant pressure of deafening noises is no better for our hearing than looking directly into the sun is for our sight.
Ms Burns implores persons who must work around loud noises to protect themselves as much as possible.
“Sometimes hearing loss is out of our control. However, for noise-induced hearing loss, it is important to avoid, or limit, exposure to excessively loud sounds, and to use hearing protection devices when you are unable to avoid loud sounds.”
If your job requires you to wear noise-cancelling headphones – wear them! If you notice that you need to turn the volume on your HDTV up higher than usual to hear what the characters on screen are saying to each other – ask your GP what they think about it.
Maintaining your hearing is ultimately up to you. There are ways to limit the risks of hearing loss, but once hearing goes, it tends to stay gone. So, protect yourself, limit your exposure to loud noises, make sure all the water is out of your ears when you come home from the beach, and pay close attention to the gradually waning volume of sounds in your everyday life. It could mean the difference between delight and depression.