Socialization important when living with hearing loss

Merrill Hunter, NBC-HIS nationally board certified and factory trained, works with an Oticon hearing aid Monday, Dec. 16 at his store, Hi-Tech Hearing, 2017 W. Wickenburg Way. It is important people when they first get a hearing aid to continue working with heir audiologist to ensure the device is working at its best for them.

By Shawn Byrne

Sun Editor/Photographer

Living with hearing loss is often easier than accepting the fact we have trouble hearing. Hearing Health Foundation reports that 1 in 5 Americans ages 12 and over has a hearing loss, and 1 in 8 has hearing loss in both ears.

The stigma of hearing loss can take many forms, according to Shari Eberts in her blog, “Living with Hearing Loss.” Eberts said the stigma could be overt. For instance, jokes told with a punchline that delivers the message that those with hearing loss are stupid or old.

Hearing loss stigma is mostly self-imposed, and subtle. It’s bowing out of get-togethers, because the person with hearing loss doesn’t want to do the extra work to hear or is afraid they won’t hear conversations in social settings. Most people who have not accepted their hearing loss will resort to trying hide their hearing loss, deny it and try to keep it secret.

“That’s a big and very common response for people,” Melanie O’Rourke, Hearing Loss Association of American (HLAA) West Valley Chapter leader told The Sun. “It typically takes individuals seven years from being diagnosed with hearing loss to doing something.”

HLAA West Valley Chapter includes Wickenburg, and O’Rourke invites residents here to attend the chapter’s monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of each month in Sun City. The meetings provide education, support and advocacy for individuals with hearing loss. Meetings include a presentation on a specific topic as well as time to discuss hearing concerns and celebrations. Meetings are free and open to all who want to gain more information to support individuals with hearing loss.

“It’s well worth it to come if they have the ability,” O’Rourke said. “Anyone who comes will feel comfortable.”

The meetings are set up with an induction loop, or hearing loop system. A wire runs the perimeter of the room and is attached to the microphone system. This allows hearing loss individuals with aides and Cochlear implants to have speech sent directly to the individual, and they can sit in any seat in the room.

Meetings also have communication access real-time translation (CART). The words a speaker or presenter say are put up on a screen in type for people to read as well.

“We do provide one-on-one and talk with the new people,” O’Rourke said. “At the end of the formal meeting, we have an open-mike informal situation for ideas that are helpful.”

Socialization and communication are vital for a hearing loss person to enjoy a better quality of life. It is important to have a friend who truly understands what the hearing loss individual is going through, like having the need to say, “What.”

“Communication. That is what we are as human beings. If we can’t communicate, we isolate ourselves,” O’Rourke said. “It can be a depressing time for those with hearing loss, because they don’t feel they are a part of things. There are things we can do and share with family and friends for better hearing experiences.”

One of the most important things for people with hearing loss is to work with their doctors and audiologists. O’Rourke recommends keeping a diary, so they can have a record of the things that are giving them trouble with their aides or Cochlear implants that can be shared with the doctors and audiologists. Wickenburg residents can check in with Wickenburg Community Hospital, Hi-Tech Hearing, or Beltone for hearing loss essentials.

“People need to do that,” she said. “You can’t expect it to just happen. You have to give your brain time to become adjusted. It takes a while.”

For those who don’t have a hearing loss but have family members or friends who do, there are things they can do for better communication. They can be that trusted family member or friend who clues in the hearing loss person that conversations have shifted, and when speaking look at the person with a hearing loss, so they know the source of the sound is coming toward them.

Though hearing members in families and social circles can help, O’Rourke, who suffers hearing loss because of a bout with meningitis, says it’s imperative the individual with hearing loss takes the initiative. If they find themselves in a group, they can take a person aside for one-on-one conversation. They can sit at the center of the table rather than on one end in order to hear everyone.

It is important for those with hearing loss to know they are not alone. They may have to search and reach out to find the help and socialization they need, but it is there.

“We are trying to reach individuals to provide information,” O’Rourke said. “We’re more than happy to provide support. Our board members have gone out to groups and presented information.”

Hearing Loss

Association of America

West Valley Chapter

12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14; First Presbyterian Church, 12225 N. 103rd Avenue, Sun City; facebook.com/hlaawestvalleyaz

Topic: Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ACDHH) will provide an overview and share its vision.

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