It happens to most of us eventually, but we pretend it isn’t: We’re talking about the gradual decline in our hearing as we age.
One in six Australians is affected by hearing loss, but stigma around the issue causes many people to pretend it’s not happening, perhaps due to embarrassment or fears of being thought of as ‘old’.
That’s why Australian Hearing is calling on Aussies of all ages to take its online Hearing YES Test.
On average, Australians wait seven years to have their hearing tested, when really it should be done every one to two years.
Janette Thorburn, a senior audiologist with Australian Hearing, says most people avoid hearing tests because they think they can manage on their own.
“The problem is they miss out on conversations, or half of conversations, and they’re embarrassed because they might say the wrong thing or miss the punchline,” she says.
“There’s still quite a lot of that stigma, particularly in people who are over 60, where they think, ‘Oh, people think I’m getting old’.”
How do I know if I’m losing my hearing?
The changes can be subtle – just as our eyes start to strain as our vision deteriorates, so does our hearing.
You may have noticed that you turn up the volume on the television higher than you used to, or find it harder to hear people talk in crowded areas such as shopping centres, or struggle to understand every word being said over the phone.
“It is missing parts of conversations, missing alarms, like when your phone goes off or when your doorbell rings,” Thorburn says of the signs of hearing loss. “If you’re out in a social situation and you feel like it’s getting so much harder with all of the noise and it’s like people are mumbling.”
All these are signs that it’s time to get your hearing tested. Click here to take an online hearing test.
Will I have to get a hearing aid?
Much of the stigma around hearing loss is due to a fear of having to wear a hearing aid.
But this is only one option. An audiologist may recommend you purchase an assisted listening device to help make day-to-day situations such as watching television or talking on the phone a little easier.
Or they may just advise you to continue getting your hearing tested every few years to monitor the changes over time.
If a hearing aid is needed, new technology has made them smaller and more comfortable than ever.
What are the side effects of hearing loss?
The side effects are varied and because hearing loss can happen gradually, we may not even associate them with our hearing. Having to work just that bit harder to hear everything can be exhausting for our brains and can leave us feeling tired and frustrated.
More significant hearing loss can cause feelings of isolation and has been linked to an increased risk of dementia and falls.
Thorburn says Baby Boomers fall into two groups when it comes to hearing loss: those in their late 50s to 60s, who are more likely to address the problem, and those in their 70s and beyond, who are more prone to being in denial on the issue.
“The younger generation of Baby Boomers are much more active in getting information and doing something about it,” she says. “Then there are the ones who are too embarrassed and say ‘I missed the punchline’, or ‘I have to admit I don’t keep up with conversations anymore’ so just don’t go out.”
Whichever category you fall into, Thorburn says it’s important to be proactive and find a solution that suits you.
How the Hearing YES Test can help
Australian Hearing has teamed up with comedian Mikey Robins to encourage all Australians to regularly have their hearing tested, and have made it easy to do so with new self-help tools, including a lifestyle quiz, video and a five-minute, audio test.
At the end of the test, you’ll be given your results so you can see how you measure up against other people in your age group and what steps you should take next.
Robins says he decided to get his hearing tested when he noticed a lot of his friends were having issues with their own.
“You have to remember that for 17 or 18 years of my professional career, I wore headphones for three hours a day in a radio studio and I noticed a lot of radio announcers around my age were saying they were having a few issues with their hearing,” he said.
“So I went to get my hearing checked since most of my life is based on being able to hear other people and hear an audience.”
He says the results were reassuring and helped put his concerns at ease.
“I was fine! That’s one of the great things about doing the test,” he said. “Like any condition, the worst thing is not knowing. It’s better to know and realise that you have to do something or go ‘no my hearing’s actually pretty good’.”
He’s also encouraging particular family members to give it a go.
“Between you and I, I would like it if my mother-in-law had a crack,” he whispered. “My wife’s very proactive when it comes to health so she gets tested quite regularly and as such, so do I.”
As well as the Hearing YES Test, Australian Hearing also offers expert advice over the phone and on their support service Hearing Help, where people can chat to a specialist online about any questions or concerns they may have.
Thorburn says the support service Hearing Help has been a hit since it was launched last year.
“People write back to the website and say ‘Fantastic! It really reassured me, I’m okay’, or ‘I noticed there was a little bit of an issue, but I actually rang someone who was qualified and they told me to keep going for now, but do the test again next year’.”
For Robins, it’s all about peace of mind.
“Go to the website, check out the video and do the Hearing YES Test,” he said. “Like any health issue the worst thing you can be is ignorant.”
To mark World Hearing Day on March 3, Australian Hearing is encouraging all over-60s to take the Hearing YES Test.
Have you noticed changes in your hearing? How have you dealt with it?