My eyesight is poor; I have one myopic (near-sighted) and one hyperopic (far-sighted) eye. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was 7 years old, and bifocals since age 35. Nobody makes fun of me for wearing glasses, nor should they; it is nothing to be embarrassed about. Before I had my hips replaced, I used a cane to get around. Nobody made fun of me for that, either; they recognized that I had a need for it, and that was that. No shame necessary.
But because of the stigma attached to hearing loss, people won’t admit they need help. Often the perception is that wearing a hearing aid makes you appear less intelligent. Hearing aids are assumed to be for old or disabled people, and that stigma is a very real reason that a lot of hearing loss goes undiagnosed and untreated. It didn’t help that older hearing devices were large and bulky; people did not want to wear them because they were ugly and awkward.
The irony is, though, that untreated hearing loss is far more noticeable than today’s hearing devices. Chances are good that you have chatted with a person wearing hearing instruments and never noticed them. On the other hand, constantly asking someone to repeat what they said, turning the volume up on the radio and TV, and speaking loudly are tell-tale signs of hearing loss.
Sufferers struggle on a daily basis to hear and understand their environment; it can be exhausting and socially isolating. The hearing-impaired person feels frustrated, angry, defeated, embarrassed and ridiculed. Eventually, many drop out of life, in a way. They stop trying and withdraw, because that is easier. As for me, I resigned myself to a lifetime of permanent hearing loss.
A dear friend of mine has a rare gene mutation that causes, among other things, eventual deafness. She also attends a lot of concerts and shows, and had worked for many years in an industrial environment. She had been having difficulty when more than one person was talking or where background noise like television would mask the softer sounds of conversation, just like me. She got hearing aids, and she told me she loved them.
Even after she told me that, I rationalized that her case was different, and my hearing loss was untreatable, because that’s what I had been told as a child. It wasn’t until Mr. Stuck talked candidly to me about my hearing – telling me that even my sons and my friends were noticing that it was getting worse – that I agreed to go see an audiologist again. I warned the Mr. that it would probably be a waste of time, but I would go.
Continued in Part IV...
photo credit Ephemeral Scraps