Monday, 10 September 2012

Have you heard.....Living with a hearing loss

Sorry for the lack of blog entry last week, I was away in Devon racing at the South Coast Rowing Championships.

I did however do some great market research, using a close friend, also a rower, as my test dummy.

Born with a profound hearing loss he has grown up wearing hearing aids and using assistive listening devices. A few years ago he took an amazing step, and had a cochlear implant fitted.

A Cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is severely-profoundly deaf. In the most part the implant is embedded under the skin just behind the ear, with a magnetic link to an actual hearing aid sitting on the ear itself. The implant is also connected via tiny wires to the real cochlear, where through the use of many electrodes, it stimulates the cochlear in the appropriate places according to the sounds transmitted from the microphone of the hearing aid. (for a more detailed explanation visit wikipedia)

I have known this friend for several years now (post cochlear implant) but never really questioned him about his hearing, until last week, and even without asking questions it was interesting to stay with him for a few days and begin to appreciate just how it effects his life.

He has never been to a private Audiologist like myself, this is often the case with congenital hearing losses as the National Health Service would have always been his parents first point of call.
So he wears a large power aid in his left ear and the cochlear implant in his right both of course NHS, strangely not from the same hospital though, right one from Bristol and left from Barnstable.

Having no experience with cochlear implants, this was what I was most interested in, I have seen the videos on the internet when children first have an implant switched on and assumed, naively that this is what it must have been like for him, not so.

Firstly there were severe balance and nausea issues, we often forget that our ears not only help us to communicate but also control our ability to stay on our feet. Once this had worn off the new sound itself was enough to drive him mad, a simple rustle of a crisp packet sounded like the roar of thunder and noisy environments had to be avoided at all costs. At the time he was quite serious when he asked the doctor to have it removed, but luckily he persisted. It took about a year for the benefits to begin to outweigh the negatives, the turning point he tells me being the first time he was able to recognise birds song.

Both being rowers we soon moved on to how hearing loss effects him in his sport. He tells me that he used to wear them both whilst rowing, which although a little hap-hazard (sweat would often transfer inside the aids and prevent them from working for a short time) this at least meant he could hear the calls from the coxswain, or even the start of the race. After one aid took a knock whilst out on the water and ended up at the bottom of the river however*, he now chooses to row deaf. This has its complications, his son who rows infront of him in the boat tells me that he can feel his dad take his first stroke moments after they do, and having rowed with him myself a few weeks ago; sitting on the water waiting to race is quite a social event for most, but without any hearing a long silence for him.

*he recovered the aid at low tide, and once dry worked right-as-rain!

Simple problems that probably become everyday routine also occurred over the week, like the batteries dying without any notice, sounds quite normal but try to appreciate that when this happens he doesn't hear someone suddenly sticking their fingers in your ears. Or when trying to reach him by phone, simply arranging dinner may take 4 or 5 texts. 

There are strangely, some benefits to being deaf. Whilst staying with him, he reminded me that there was no need to be quiet in the mornings, as there was no way I would wake him up. For the same reason the lack of double glazing on a main street flat has no affect on his sleep. In order to wake up in time for work he uses a simple vibrating alarm clock, placed under the pillow.

All in all how much his hearing loss affects his life is completely relative. The hearing he has now is far better than it was only a few years ago, however if tomorrow his hearing was the same as mine, he would then realise quite how much he was affected by it.

He was surprised to hear of the technology that is available privately however, water proof aids, wireless mobile connection, convenient charging would all benefit him, and perhaps that's the difference between private and NHS, both can improve your hearing, but only we can give flexible, convenient solutions to everyday problems.

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