What? I can’t hear you!

Hear­ing loss can be so sub­tle that it of­ten goes un­no­ticed.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SENIOR - By KALA RASIAH

“WHEN did you ar­rive in KL, aunty?” my sis­ter asked.

“Oh, I am stay­ing with my niece,” my aunt re­sponded.

“How long will you be in Malaysia?” piped up an­other cousin. She replied, “I ar­rived two days ago.” This com­edy of er­rors pro­ceeded for a lit­tle while more be­fore it dawned on the as­sem­bled rel­a­tives that our 80- year- old aunt from Aus­tralia was hard of hear­ing.

What struck me at this gath­er­ing of el­derly rel­a­tives was that each of us there was in vary­ing stages of hear­ing loss. With bet­ter food, liv­ing con­di­tions and med­i­cal ad­vances, se­niors are liv­ing longer. How­ever, with age comes the break­down of the body’s or­gans.

First it is eye­sight. For­tu­nately tech­nol­ogy and surgery have given us se­niors the abil­ity to see, read and ob­serve well into the late 80s and 90s. I am in my mid- 60s and able to use the com­puter and read the small print on the smart­phone, all thanks to cataract surgery.

Hear­ing loss is next in line. This is so sub­tle no one re­alises it at first. It all starts with the con­stant use of “what?” If you find your­self fre­quently ask­ing “what?” dur­ing a chat or phone call ( at what­ever age), you could be suf­fer­ing some de­gree of hear­ing loss.

We se­niors play the blame game, still un­aware of our hear­ing loss in the early stages. It is the TV, tele­phone or ra­dio’s fault ... the vol­ume is low, the trans­mis­sion is poor, and so on. Even worse, we blame the other per­son. He is speak­ing too softly, doesn’t enun­ci­ate well or in the case of the pot call­ing the ket­tle black, we will ac­cuse that per­son of be­ing deaf!

Fi­nally, as the hear­ing goes, the voice level rises. Un­con­sciously we start speak­ing loudly. I will never for­get an el­derly rel­a­tive who at 90 was hard of hear­ing. Fed up with speak­ing loudly, her adult grand­son would stand in front of her and talk very loudly. She could hear at close range and of­ten lip read.

One day, af­ter re­peat­ing some­thing twice loudly close to her face, she stunned him with, “Why are you shout­ing? Can’t you speak nor­mally?”

It was the per­fect come­back to his be­ing in her face all the time!

We se­niors are aware of how hard it is for nor­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion and can get frus­trated, too, at not be­ing able to par­tic­i­pate in a con­ver­sa­tion.

Usu­ally, se­niors won’t ad­mit to hear­ing loss. We have strate­gies to over­come this. If we want to hear some juicy gos­sip, we will change seats or sit with the “good ear” near­est the per­son. If we are star­ing at you, it is be­cause we’re avidly lip read­ing to help us hear bet­ter. We might just si­dle up to you or edge closer to you. Don’t get ner­vous. It is just our way of not ad­mit­ting we can’t hear.

Hear­ing loss in se­niors is not taken se­ri­ously. No one, the per­son with deaf­ness or the care­giver, checks it out or tries to do some­thing about it. We have heard hor­rid tales of hear­ing aids. It used to be ugly, bulky and no­tice­able. Now they are bet­ter but tend to mag­nify the sur­round­ing noises so much that it hurts or dis­tracts and the user gives it up. Hear­ing aids have not reached the user- friendly level of eye glasses.

Most se­niors pre­fer not to use th­ese aids. We go our merry way speak­ing at the top of our voices or giv­ing the wrong an­swers. Sadly, there are some who just tune out of the to­tally con­fus­ing bab­ble of voices around them. They re­treat into si­lence and be­come with­drawn as the ef­fort to be part of a cir­cle is too great.

My late father was in his early eight­ies when we re­alised he was hard of hear­ing. A fam­ily dis­cus­sion would be rag­ing around and de­ci­sions made but later he would ac­cuse us of not telling him about it. We would protest that he was there when the de­ci­sion was made and we as­sumed he had agreed as he had not raised any ob­jec­tions.

He would then say, “You were all talk­ing at the same time. I could not make out any­thing.”

Even tele­vi­sion be­came an ef­fort ( this was in the days be­fore ear­phones). He hated the aids I got him as noisy, dis­tract­ing and hated even more that peo­ple knew he could not hear. The loss of dig­nity was un­bear­able for him. It was bet­ter to with­draw and speak or lis­ten only when some­one spoke di­rectly to him.

Loss of hear­ing as we age is no com­edy or laugh­ing mat­ter. It af­fects our qual­ity of life.

Old is gold is a plat­form for read­ers aged 55 and above to share their wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence and take on life. E- mail star2@ thes­tar. com. my. Pub­lished con­tri­bu­tions will be paid, so please in­clude your full name, IC num­ber, ad­dress and phone num­ber.

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