Dealing with Impaired Hearing

Learning to Live with Hearing Aids


“Historians are like deaf people who go on answering questions that no one has asked them.” (Leo Tolstoy)

As one who suffers the fate of Tolstoy’s historian, I have reason to understand the problems of those who find themselves having to give in and seek the assistance of an audiologist to prescribe a pair of digital hearing aids. Albeit that digital is superior to analogue, don’t think that the transition is going to be easy. It is not. Digital hearing aids will never be the panacea of perfect hearing, but they do go a long way to solving the frustration of impaired hearing. It is a struggle, but one worth making.


The onset of impaired hearing is usually a gradual event and is more associated with the ageing process, but not exclusively. The longer people live, the chances of hearing loss and the resulting need to look at acquiring hearing aids, increases. On the face of it, this is not really any big issue but in reality it causes many people problems. These are not only physical; they are psychological.

None of us readily accept the loss of any of our faculties. It seems that the head, home of so many essential functions, is the centre of the most common problems with loss of hair, vision, teeth and of course hearing.

Seven Ages of ManHear ye Hear ye

Last scene of all

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans


 (‘As You Like It’ – William Shakespeare)


Hearing problems are of course not the prerogative of the more elderly. In the UK there are currently some 45,000 children with varying degrees of deafness. 50% of childhood deafness is hereditary and 50% of the total are actually deaf at birth. In spite of the concerns over MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) protection, fewer babies are born deaf as a result of German measles (rubella) in pregnancy.


Over all  the age groups, some 10 million people suffer some sort of hearing loss. That is a surprising 1 in 6 of the UK population. People in the 65+ age range account for 6.4 million. With the increase in life expectancy, the total figure of people with some form of deafness is expected to reach 14.5 million by 2013.


Where do you begin?

The first stage is to admit that you have a problem. Many people find this difficult. I, and I expect many people, just do not want to be wired up for sound in what they see as a noticeable and intrusive indication of what is really a form of disability. Interestingly, it is less so with deteriorating vision. Here the symptoms are more obvious. When you cannot read the small print telling you how to cook a frozen pizza, your own frustration tells you to do something about it. The wearing of glasses is somehow more acceptable and designer frames are even viewed as a fashion accessory.

Some models of hearing aids are less obtrusive than others and fit just inside the ear canal if you are sensitive about wearing them. Don’t let this psychological barrier put you off.


‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, saith the preacher’

(Ecclesiastes 1)

Even if you can accept being ‘hard of hearing’, it is selfish not to act for the sake of those around you. The frustration felt by partners or family who have to constantly repeat themselves can be hugely irritating, especially when the sufferer will not be honest and pretends to have heard every word. If you are having problems, and don’t want to help yourself, then seek help for the sake of others.


 Jokes about hearing aids

A patient told his doctor that he was concerned about his wife’s poor hearing and asked if the doctor would act.

I think I might be going deaf

She explained that she could not unless the wife approached her in person. Having explained that she was in denial, the doctor suggested another approach. The husband could carry out a simple task. He was advised to make a note of the distance from parts of the house and see if his wife could hear him. He stood in the hall and asked what was for tea. There was no response. He moved on to the sitting room and asked the same question, without a response. He finally stood by the kitchen door and shouted loudly “What is for tea? His wife replied. “Fish and chips, I’ve told you three times already!”


The second step is to speak to your doctor and ask for an NHS referral. The waiting list can be long and many people choose to contact a private supplier. An audiologist will carry out a test to ascertain if you can be helped by digital hearing aids.


Impaired hearing can be a big problem in the workplace. Well-tuned digital hearing aids can both avoid embarrassment and increase efficiency. Not all employers and colleagues fully appreciate the issues, especially during the interview process.


‘Do we feel that Mr Quinn’s deafness is going to be a significant liability in the job?’

‘Well, as I said,’ replied Bartlett, ‘there’s the telephone for a start, isn’t there? Perhaps he is not fully aware of the vast number of incoming and outgoing calls here. It’s a very tricky business when you’re deaf.’

‘Surely not. There are all sorts of gadgets these days. You can wear one of those behind-the-ear-things, where the microphone is.’

‘Do you actually know someone who’s deaf and who.. ?’

‘As a matter of fact, I don’t.’

‘Then I suggest there is a real danger of underestimating the problem.’

(‘The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn’ – Colin Dexter.)


What is a hearing test like?

It is straight forward and nothing to be feared. It involves putting on a set of head phones and listening to the quietest sounds using tones of different frequencies until what is called the threshold is reached, measured in dB (decibels) against HL (hearing level). Normal hearing is between 0 and 20 dBHL across all frequencies. A mould of your ear is made to ensure a good comfortable fit and that’s it all done.

The main three categories of impaired hearing are:


Mild –                    hearing speech in noisy places (25 – 39 dB)

Moderate –         problems hearing speech without a digital hearing aid (40-60 dB)

Severe –               Lip reading, even with a digital hearing aid (70-95 dB)


Learning to use a hearing aid

Finally, the day arrives when your are fitted with your digital hearing aids. Normally two are recommended to achieve the right balance. In the quiet of the audiology clinic all seems fine until you first step outside. You are bombarded by a cacophony of sounds. If you open the car window, passing traffic sounds like a squadron of Tornado jets and your once quiet car sounds akin to an old tractor! You feel locked in by an invisible window and you hear your own voice echoing somewhere deep in your head and chest. A dishwasher sounds like the Niagara Falls and the car engine running in the kitchen turns out to be the refrigerator. This does not last for more than a few days. The temptation is to put them back in their box and never use them again. That is not the answer. It is essential that you persevere and allow your brain time to adjust. Of some 2 million people fitted with hearing aids 1.4 million never use them! Try using the hearing aids for just a few hours and then take a break, but build this up until you can use them all day. You will soon be unaware of them and more than once I have got into the shower unaware that I was wearing them – not a good idea!


It has to be said that there are situations when you will not cope and have to take them out. Beware of popping them into a shirt pocket destined for the washing machine! Whilst improved hearing is of huge value, with quality of life improvement, so is the ability to turn off and revert to your old poor hearing, especially if you share my intolerance of karaoke night at your local pub!

 ‘There’s no so deaf as those who will not hear’

(Matthew Henry 1662 – 1714)