World Hearing Day: I hear ‘this’ when you talk

The 3rd of March is a day we recognise World Hearing Day.

This year, NKD’er Cheryl takes us into her world, sharing her personal experiences with hearing loss. Cheryl shares how you can detect early signs of hearing loss, and what we can do at work to make life easier for our colleagues who suffer from it.

World Hearing Day: I hear ‘this’ when you talk

March 3rd is World Hearing Day – it’s our one day to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness and hearing loss and promote ear and hearing care across the world.

Hearing loss affects so much more than just hearing. Not being able to hear sound in the way others do, leads to feelings of frustration and anxiety, both personally and socially, which can impact self-confidence and self-kindness.

So, without sounding like a broken record, I thought I might use music as the theme for this blog on hearing loss, and in some way, help you to hear me.

Sound of music or sound of silence

I was with my daughter and her friend, driving from a relative’s house, when they asked me to put the radio on and they started to sing the songs.  As the journey progressed, I found myself becoming irritated with their singing. I changed radio stations, hoping it would shut them up! Nope, they also knew the words to these songs… I then turned the radio off, stating a headache.  They proceeded to put on their headphones and continue to sing. 

I felt tears running down my face, but I couldn’t understand why it affected me so much.  I felt angry at them for singing and myself for being upset. The journey was one of the most difficult I’ve ever driven, as I tried to make sense of what was bothering me.

I later realised my anger toward them was disguising my own humiliation. The reason was so obvious, but I was in complete denial about my hearing loss.

I didn’t know the words to the songs and couldn’t join in – I felt disconnected in a moment of joy.

(This is what I hear when listening to song lyrics.)

I hope this gives you an idea of the impact my hearing loss has on my ability to connect with others. I have had hearing loss since birth and it took me 45 years to acknowledge the issue.  If I’d worn hearing aids when I was younger, I am convinced I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious or as embarrassed as I feel today. I would probably have a better back catalogue of song lyrics too!

Even today, I still struggle with wearing them and it impacts my work, my relationships, and my self-esteem.

Communication and connecting with others can be difficult for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, which means we must work harder at it. We learn to listen in multiple ways, which can make us better listeners.

I know I’m not alone in these feelings. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.5 billion people (nearly 20% of the global population) live with hearing loss and the associated impact of this. 

What can you do?

Noticing that your/others hearing is different can be unsettling. It is often the case that others notice that a person is not hearing as well as they used to, but sometimes feel uncomfortable mentioning it. 

Whether you’ve noticed it yourself, or family and friends are making comments about your hearing, it’s extremely important not to delay having your hearing checked.  

Signs of hearing loss

Although the ways in which changes in hearing begin to show vary with individuals, there are several signs of earlier stage hearing loss which most people experience; These are the most usual: 

  • Not hearing clearly or misunderstanding what’s been said, often needing it to be repeated 
  • Following conversation in noisier surroundings becomes difficult and tiring 
  • TV and radio needing to be turned up to try and make speech easier to understand 
  • Difficulty understanding someone speaking from a distance such as from another room in the home or at a meeting 
  • Generally having to concentrate, more than before, on a person who’s speaking especially in groups or where there is troublesome background noise 

How you can support colleagues with hearing loss

When it comes to the workplace, there are many ways people can support colleagues with hearing loss. Here are a few things you can do to help and take into consideration:

  1. Don’t shout or speak slowly, it distorts your lip movement and facial expressions, which we use as cues to understand what you are saying!
  2. Face the person when you talk. When we are behind you, your voice projection is going away from us. We cannot hear round corners or through walls either. 😉
  3. Building on the above, let us sit at the front so we can hone in on the speaker/see others. It’s not to seek favouritism; it really makes a difference.
  4. Hearing aids pick up every sound, so be mindful that we may want to sit away from AC units, music playing, loud talking etc. I like a desk at the back of the office facing forward, away from the music and with no one behind me.
  5. Give us context to what you are talking about so we can make word associations if we miss a sound e.g., talking about clothing will tell us the ‘oot’ is suit, not fruit.
  6. A noisy office space can be overwhelming and we may need to seek a quiet space, be patient with us.
  7. Remember, we don’t all experience the world the same way – be kind.

There are many support groups to help you navigate loss of hearing. Don’t suffer and ignore it; it will impact your self-confidence and relationships.

If you want to know more about hearing loss, deafness, and how to respond in a more positive way, visit the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.