How Communication and Human Connection are Affected by Hearing Loss
Written by Lee Williams, Hearing Loss Association of America, Pennsylvania State Office (HLAA-PA)
First the good news. We are living longer. Advances in technology and healthcare have lengthened our life cycle. The chances of our living longer than previous generations are good as long as we take care of ourselves and stay healthy.
We are social creatures. We enjoy friendship and good times with others. Because we have the ability to communicate, we have the opportunity to create friendships and meet and get to know many new people in our lifetimes. Our senses of sight, speech and hearing make this possible. About 20% of our population have a hearing loss, that’s about 42 million people.
The bad news is that as we age that percentage becomes more than one in three people. It is a gradual process with many, but with others it is a sudden loss in the ability to hear and understand.
Can you imagine waking up in a foreign country where you do not speak or understand the language? You see the familiar faces of friends and loved ones, but cannot understand what is being said to you.
You say to yourself, as you have said many times in the past, “I’ll get through this, I have dealt with much worse things.” But the consequence of hearing loss is that it is hard for people to communicate with you.
You try, but you become aware that you are no longer the life of the party, and communication with you requires special accommodations, and patience. Sooner or later you find it easier to withdraw into yourself and avoid the possibility of embarrassment or misunderstanding and feeling dumb. You will make excuses for turning down invitations from people who you would like to be with very much. This is the route that most of us take. I know that route well.
Fortunately, I have a friend who sees things a little clearer than I. He took the time to get me aside and speak these words: “You have only one life to live, and how you do it is your business, but your friends miss you. For their sake, and the people who care about, and love you, you owe it to them and yourself to do whatever possible to try to hear better. The worst that can happen is that you would be no better than you are now.”
I quickly realized that he was right. I had seen and read about cochlear implants, I didn’t see how they could possibly work. How could they replace the inner ear and all the little parts it housed, and connect this new technology to the audio nerve and recreate sound that the brain could hear and understand. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through the surgery and the recovery period at my age. I wanted no part of it.
But then I remembered those words. “You owe it to the people who care about you and love you, if not for yourself.” Fortunately, I qualified for the surgery and had it done two and a half years ago.
After the recovery period my cochlear implant (CI) was activated, and I was amazed to hear my wife’s and children’s voices again. I couldn’t hold back the tears. We visited with some friends on that Friday night, and the next day I heard one of them say: “We got a big piece of Lee back again.”
While it was not like a miracle where I woke up from surgery and could magically hear again (in fact, it takes work to retrain the brain to recognize sound), it was well worth the effort.
I should mention that during my hearing loss period, I found it necessary to retire much earlier than I planned to. I had worked in sales, marketing and business development for many years and enjoyed it very much, but for the sake of my clients, my employer, and myself I felt that I could no longer give the level of service they deserved due to my hearing loss.
I was fortunate during this time to have found support at HLAA-PA, the Hearing Loss Association of America’s State of Pennsylvania chapter. I became aware of this organization through my Speech and Hearing classes at West Chester University—classes that I attended to help improve my hearing performance with my CI. I was introduced to a number of very caring graduate students who were clinicians in their program. I am still attending class and learning.
I attended a chapter meeting at HLAA and was welcomed into the group by others who were dealing with the same issues that I was. I quickly felt that I was among understanding friends. I was later asked to join the Advisory Counsel and attend meetings in Harrisburg. At one of the meetings it was mentioned that the cost of printing and mailing our newsletter was growing along with its circulation and a motion was made to accept advertising to help to offset the costs. I volunteered to help as I had some previous experience in this field having worked at IBM as an Industry Manager of the Printing & Publishing and Advertising Industry. I also worked at Comcast Metrophone as the Retail Distribution Manager and the Developer of the Wireless Data Distribution Channel.
These and other jobs were enjoyable. I met a lot of great people and good friends, but none were as rewarding as my volunteer job as Director of Development at HLAA-PA. I had never experienced the feeling of helping people who are struggling with the many challenges of hearing loss. My vanity had caused me some concern about getting a CI because of the obvious noticeably of it being attached to your skull, but so many people have seen it and asked me questions either for themselves or for a hard of hearing friend who is undecided but considering one. I feel honored to be able to encourage them along with explaining the ups and downs of the procedure. My work at HLAA-PA has given me the opportunity to meet some wonderful people, as advertisers, prospective clients or people who just enjoy helping others, I am very grateful for this opportunity.
Good news and Better News.
I would encourage you, if you have the opportunity, to be a part of an organization that is dedicated to helping others. As mentioned earlier, the number of people who will need assistance as the population ages is huge. You may find that you will work harder than you have on any other job, but the rewards are even greater.
Celebrate the fact than you will probably live longer. Don’t believe that the price you will have to pay for that privilege is a hearing loss. If you, or someone you know is experiencing a hearing loss, don’t let them become a hermit. Tell them about HLAA – where they can find information and support from others who understand what they are going through, because they have been there.
Enjoy the possibilities of a longer life and the company of, and communications with, those that you love and care about.
PATF can connect you with possible funding resources for your hearing aid, cochlear implant, or other assistive technology. We also offer low-interest and 0% interest loans for assistive technology. Contact us to learn more about how we can help!