Hearing aid. They’re dirty words for active, young-at-heart 60-somethings. Hearing aids are for ‘old people’. They’re big, clunky and sit on the side of your head for everyone to see.
While many have learned to embrace the changes their body goes through over the years, fading hearing seems to be one of those topics that still carries a stigma. But hearing aids aren’t what they used to be, just like growing older isn’t what it used to be, as Gary Hywood found out.
The 66-year-old was in his 50s when he first noticed changes in his hearing.
“I’m a welder by trade and spent two years in the national service in infantry firing weapons as well so I’ve always been in a noisy environment,” he says.
But the stigma around hearing loss put him off dealing with the issue.
“Nobody wants to wear those big clunkers and that’s what everybody thinks hearing aids are these days,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why I put it off for so long.”
Hywood’s far from alone. Australians wait on average seven years after first noticing changes to have their hearing tested.
It wasn’t until he was retired and had the opportunity to spend more time with his grandchildren that Hywood decided to act.
“I’d had hearing tests before through work and I knew I had some slight hearing loss, but what really hit home was about 12 months ago I was sitting in the lounge room with the TV going and my grandson was sitting alongside of me. He asked me a question and if I didn’t hear anything correctly my stock standard answer was a ‘yes’ and a smile and a nod of the head,” he recalls.
“My wife could hear what the question was and said ‘That’s not what he asked you’. So we decided that it was time for me to go get a hearing check.”
Putting off a hearing test can have serious consequences. Not only do people end up missing out on conversations or avoiding social occasions because they’re embarrassed to ask companions to repeat themselves, studies have shown the feeling of social isolation can cause some to become depressed. Many say that untreated hearing loss impacts their relationships at work and at home.
Hywood says the majority of his hearing loss occurred in the 1970s, when the idea of wearing hearing protection was almost non-existent – something many people who worked in trades will be able to relate to.
“Back in the day when I started my apprenticeship, if you did things like putting your hearing protection in you got called a wuss by the older guys, so it was a bit of a stigma in those days,” he remembers.
When he was fitted with his hearing aid by Australian Hearing, Hywood found himself surprised at how small and inconspicuous it was. Like most modern hearing aids, it sits behind his ear and measures about just 1.5cm long, with a small tube going into his ear.
“Most people don’t even know I’ve got it on, which is what I like,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why I went ahead and got them because they have come down in size.”
The West Australian admits he’d been starting to feel left out of conversations with his friends before he decided to act.
“In noisy conversions like at the golf club things, I felt like I was being left out of situations because I couldn’t really hear what they were talking about so a lot of the time you just can’t enjoy the conversation,” he says. “You just sort of go into your shell and people wonder why you’re not joining in the conversation. But basically you learn to live with it and get on with life. But since having my hearing back, I’m hearing different sounds I haven’t heard for years.”
But since being fitted with his hearing aid, things have changed.
“I put it in every day for as long as I possibly can and the sounds I’m hearing are amazing,” Hywood says, recalling his surprise at hearing for the first time in a long time the sound of his shoes squeaking on the floor.
“Something simple like that, it was nice to hear that I could actually hear it and my wife reckons I’m not entertaining the neighbours now because I’ve turned the TV down four levels from 13 down to 9,” he jokes. “So it’s really good and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”