Around five years ago, I met a lovely farming couple from the Wheatbelt — let’s call them Stan and Pat (not their real names).
Stan had been subjected to noisy machinery for more than 30 years, wearing hearing protection for only the past 15, and then only half of the time.
Pat had been suffering from the effects of a loved one whose partner would not acknowledge his hearing loss, not always in silence. Pat finally convinced Stan to come in for a hearing test and was obviously much more motivated than her husband to have his hearing loss treated. Stan was late in arriving and Pat opened up to me, somewhat tearfully. She described the “old Stan” as her mate and best friend, a chirpy, bright and sociable family man who was well liked in their community.
She painted a picture of Stan now, his loss of confidence, choosing to stay home instead of socialising, clearly existing without a customary spring in his step. He had essentially turned into an uncommunicative, unhappy and somewhat reluctant partner. Pat clearly felt much of this was due to his inability to hear well.
The benefits of treating hearing loss
As an audiologist, I meet people like Stan and Pat daily. What is most frustrating in my profession is the degree of denial and avoidance that is associated with dealing with hearing loss. It would be great if people understood that the benefits of treating hearing loss are quick and often profound and the treatment is low-risk and may potentially reduce the threat of cognitive decline, starting from day one of hearing well.
Today’s hearing devices are not the big cauliflower-looking lumps they used to be, but most often tiny intelligent pieces of sophisticated and stylish technology, much better and more effective than their predecessors. The best part is, they allow wearers to join in on life again, to regain their former confidence, conversation and joke telling.
Let’s face it, maintaining a resistance to wearing a hearing device means everyone around is affected, some more than the sufferer. Communication is challenging with someone frequently asking for repeats of what has been said, and the natural back and forth of conversation is interrupted, affecting understanding, spontaneity and the sharing of observations. Jokes, small talk and unexpected experiences can become a thing of the past. People tend to stick to the basics, filter their language of nuances and subtleties and avoid talking because it can be frustrating, tiresome and difficult.
Hearing loss and cognitive decline
Recent studies at the University of Queensland have also shown that hearing loss is associated with a 30-40 per cent acceleration in cognitive decline. A great deal of recent audiological discussion worldwide is around the worrying escalation in dementia, with the finger pointed squarely at hearing loss as a significant culprit.
A Lancet Commission on Dementia report 2018 identified about 35 per cent of dementia as potentially avoidable, with the single biggest category that could be avoided, some 9 per cent, simply by people paying attention to addressing their hearing loss.
If you have a hearing loss, your natural tendency might be to avoid situations where hearing is more difficult, but this is not the answer for you or anyone around you. There is a very real risk of isolation and depression setting in, even in established relationships where couples have been together for decades.
The great news is that help is readily available. I would encourage you to think about the wider implications of not doing anything about your hearing loss or instead actually enhancing your life, and the lives of everyone around you too.
Contact out team to discuss your hearing needs.