By Clive Turner
“Sorry?” “What was that?” “I didn’t get that.” “Pardon?” “Please could you say that again?” Are these words and phrases all too familiar in your everyday conversation with others?
Yes, you are ahead of me. Like me, you are, as the dreaded expression goes, ‘hard of hearing’. Or, put less kindly, you are deaf – perhaps only to a degree, but there are all too many things you don’t hear easily, and some things, not at all. At the theatre, with no hearing loop, you might pick up two per cent of the dialogue. In a crowd, or in a noisy environment, trying to keep up with what’s being said is hopeless. I am afraid there are several thousand of us living here who suffer from this really irritating physical loss and with an ageing population this situation will only become far more common. And sadly, people sometimes look at you with an undisguised pity and make little effort to speak up! It can be a bit humiliating. It tends to lead to withdrawal on the part of us struggling to listen carefully and we (wrongly) give up. It means we often need to take a partner with us where it is important to have heard every word such as those with a legal, medical, or financial content.
After years of flying almost daily and nightly from aircraft carriers, like a lot of us naval aviators, I lost my hearing – or much of it – and have contended with hearing aids at various levels of expense for many, many years. They are reasonably useful for one-on-one conversations and not too bad when within a small group, but, as referenced above, when in a crowd, or when loud music is being played, they are almost useless. That said, listening to and watching television can be enormously improved with a pair of (Sony) earphones, which operate wirelessly and are superb, enabling every word to be heard perfectly. The only snag is that if a family member says something to you, you have to remove them temporarily. Using a telephone can be difficult, but there also devices to help in this respect.
Writing to the chairman of my American hearing aid manufacturer (a billionaire, by the way), I asked him to stop spending money on advertisements illustrating happy people chatting away in obviously very noisy circumstances – where in truth, in just such circumstances, these devices simply don’t work. “Instead,” I asked him, “please spend the dosh on further research to improve the performance of your already very expensive aids”.
His company is not alone in this respect – all the aid manufacturers are guilty of the same rather dishonest presentation of their products. None of their units works as advertised. Anyway, from the chairman of this hugely wealthy company no useful answer was forthcoming, other than to invite me to his manufacturing plant in the USA (at my expense of course) to see if he could improve on his top of the range units with which I am currently equipped. It should be said, however, that this same chairman travels the world giving away hearing aids to deaf children – which one can only admire.
Learning to lip read is one answer, but as one gets older the technique is difficult to grasp, especially when taking into account the enormous variation in dialect and accent. It needs a great deal of study and committed practice. Better yet to be able to buy something which really ‘does what it says on the tin’ in an age where electronic miracles have become quite commonplace.
Here in Cyprus I benefit from the services of an exceptionally experienced Paphos based ex-UK audiologist who labours without ceasing to get the very best out of a given unit. He simply will not give up until unless he achieves the absolute optimum from the aid, whether it is one of those ‘over the ear’ type or the almost invisible ‘in the ear’ style of aid. Some of these are now extremely sophisticated but even this highly professional and utterly committed practitioner is limited by the available wizardry – or lack of it – thereby meaning he just can do no better than rely on the finest technical expertise from around the world, which currently has become stuck in only partly overcoming the problems associated with declining standards of human hearing.
Until what my audiologist describes as “the holy grail of assisted hearing offers true clarity in noisy environments”, then we have to put up with manufacturers making outrageous claims which are at odds with the fees and charges involved.
I hope they sleep easy at night.