Hearing loss is the fastest growing disability in the world

Hearing loss is the fastest growing disability in the world and the largest percentage of people affected by it are fifty years of age and older.

Because the disability is invisible, there is little public awareness about how it affects sufferers and the people they interact with.

It’s easy to take hearing for granted until we lose it. Helen Keller once said - “Blindness separates you from things .... ....deafness separates you from people” - a compelling quote from someone who was blind and deaf.

It’s easy to imagine being blind, just close your eyes. Now try to close your ears and imagine you are deaf and think of the sounds you’ll miss. It’s not that easy.

Living with hearing loss has been described as living in a fish bowl. It can generate a general feeling of isolation.

Communication is our most vital link with other people and the warmest form is the spoken word. That’s why many people prefer a phone call to a letter.

Anyone losing their hearing knows all too well the isolation and frustration caused by miscommunication.

For the average person it takes five to seven years before they even accept that they have a hearing problem and decide to seek help.

It can occur at any age and be caused by noise pollution, accident, illness, medication side effects, the aging process or genetic reasons.

If you are suffering from it or live with someone who is, here's some useful information to help begin to address the problem.

Some signs of hearing loss

  • Feeling that people are mumbling and not speaking clearly.
  • Difficulty understanding women’s and children’s voices.
  • Frequently asking people to speak up and repeat themselves.
  • Difficulty following a conversation in a noisy environment.
  • Turning the volume on the TV or radio louder than needed for others.
  • Difficulty communicating with family members when in another room.
  • Hearing better from one ear than the other.
  • Missing important details or instructions at work.
  • Having others comment on your inability to hear.

Tips for communicating with hard of hearing people

  • Get the attention of the person before beginning to speak. It’s difficult for someone who is hard of hearing to catch up half way through the first sentence.
  • Ask the person what you can do to make communication easier and more effective.
  • Ensure the light is in your face and not behind you.
  • Speak clearly and at a normal or slightly slower pace.
  • Move closer to the person if necessary.
  • See that facial expressions match your words.
  • Don’t shout or over-emphasize words as this distorts your speech and makes it difficult to speech-read.
  • Be aware of and eliminate, if possible, sources of background noise that may interfere with communication.
  • Keep your head up and minimize head and body movement
  • Don’t cover your mouth with hands or other objects.

There are some fairly inexpensive assistive listening devices such as amplified phones and personal FM systems.

‘In – ear’ hearing aids, however, can be fairly expensive and can cost several thousand dollars. There are different products available and it’s best to spend time finding out which model is best for you.

It’s advisable meet with a Hearing Loss Consultant before purchasing a hearing aid.

You could look for a Hard of Hearing Association in your area. They promote self help, advocacy, information and visibility for people with hearing loss.