When did you last mishear someone’s name, fail to follow the plot of a TV drama or ask someone to repeat something they said, two or three times?
According to the website NHS Choices, there are approximately four million people in the UK with hearing loss who could benefit from wearing hearing aids but who either ignore their condition or refuse to do anything about it.
So why is it so hard for us to admit that our hearing is deteriorating?
As a society we have become much more compassionate about aging issues such as memory loss and dementia, but sadly there is still a tendency to regard age-related deafness as something of a joke, inspiring caricatures of crotchety senior citizens with ear trumpets. Human beings often use humour to defuse their fears and it may be that we make light of deafness because the prospect of losing our hearing scares us. Hearing loss can be profoundly isolating, leading sufferers to lose confidence and become withdrawn. Not only that, research has shown that it can lead to cognitive impairment and depression.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that some people try to conceal their hearing problems (although it’s not usually a secret to friends and family, who have to deal with the consequences). Unfortunately, some people remain in denial until they are too old to adapt to using a hearing aid.
Hearing experts agree that the sooner you start to use a hearing aid, the more you’ll get out of it. Many people are put off from wearing aids because they believe it will make them look old, but modern devices are a great improvement on those that were available even a decade ago.
Choosing a hearing aid
Hearing aids are powered by tiny batteries and nowadays almost all models are digital, rather than analogue. You can choose between several different types, depending on your personal tastes and needs.
The Behind-the-Ear (BTE) model does what it says: resting behind the ear, it transmits sound through either an earmould or a small, soft tip that enters the ear canal. In-the-Ear (ITE) sits in the ear canal and the shell of the ear, while In-the-Canal (ITC) fits inside the ear canal with its working parts in the earmould. The Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) fits deeper into your ear canal than an ITC aid.
You can obtain hearing aids through the NHS (although the ITE, ITC and CIC models mentioned above are not standard issue). You’ll have a wider choice if you buy privately, but this can be a more costly option. Audiology specialist Louise Hart from Action on Hearing Loss says: “The NHS can procure high-quality digital hearing aids. For most situations, they perform very well and the waiting time to get one is short.”
If you or someone you know is worried about their hearing, try the free online hearing test at www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk. If you’d like to know more about hearing loss, the charity Hearing Link can help by providing information, services and support. Visit www.hearinglink.org, or telephone 0300 111 1113.
Hearing loss can be worrying for you and your family, but don’t let outdated prejudices prevent you from getting the help you need. In future there’s no reason why using a hearing aid shouldn’t be just as acceptable as wearing a pair of reading glasses.