Did you hear the one about the deaf guy? Neither did he!
What’s the best thing about hearing aids? Turning them off!
The internet’s full of jokes about hearing loss but while it can sometimes lighten the load to have a little laugh about a serious topic, the devastating impact hearing loss can have on your mental health and relationships is far from funny.
As 2017 research by a team at the University of Nottingham in England found, untreated hearing loss not only has the potential to damage your self-esteem and lead to social isolation, but can also prove emotionally draining and socially isolating for your partner.
More than three million Australians have a long-term hearing disorder. Starts at 60 spoke to one of them as well as the son of a man with hearing loss to see the issue from both sides and learn how they found a solution that transformed their lives.
Daniel Pistritto was 14 years old when he was diagnosed with a hereditary disorder called otosclerosis, which eventually led to hearing loss in both ears. The condition led to difficulty at home and work, culminating in a period of depression that he says was directly attributed to his hearing loss.
“I felt alone in my hearing loss and I especially felt like no one understood or cared what I was going through,” Daniel says. “I missed out on a lot of opportunities in my professional and personal life because I just was not hearing very well at all.”
Even spending time with family and close friends was stressful, he recalls, because simply trying to understand what they were saying took so much effort.
“Sometimes I might miss what person A has said, so I need to try and get the gist of what I might have missed by how person B responds,” Daniel says. “It can be very exhausting. It’s much easier to just detach from the conversation, as opposed to trying to play an unending game of catch-up.”
Rob, who asked Starts at 60 to withhold his surname, watched as his beloved father became detached in just the way Daniel describes, as hearing loss made it increasingly hard for him to interact with his family.
While his father rarely acknowledged that he couldn’t hear, Rob says he began noticing that his dad was conversing differently, as well as missing big chunks of conversation when someone was speaking to him.
“He often took large pauses before responding to questions. Sometimes, he wouldn’t respond to me at all,” Rob says. “Once, when we had breakfast at a café, Dad elected to eat outside on his own because the background noise inside made it too hard for him to socialise.”
If you or your partner have hearing loss, many elements of Daniel’s and Rob’s experiences will sound awfully familiar.
Dr Jamie Desjardins is an assistant professor in speech-language pathology at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). She described Daniel’s situation almost exactly in a 2016 interview:
“Think about somebody who is not wearing hearing aids. They are spending so much of their brainpower just trying to focus on listening,” she says. “They are more tired at the end of the day and it’s a lot more taxing. It affects their quality of life.”
The impact on the partners of people with hearing loss can be almost as severe. The University of Nottingham study we cited earlier found that found that partners were stressed by the adjustment to their loved one’s declining ability to hear, felt guilty at the way they may have reacted to the hearing loss, and worried that they didn’t fully understand the difficulties their spouse was experiencing. Everyday communication became draining for emotionally and mentally draining for both people.
Given all of these impacts to social and home life, it’s no surprise an Australian national health survey found that people suffering from hearing loss are 57 percent more likely than people with normal hearing to be depressed and anxious.
Elaine Saunders, an award-winning audiological scientist and co-founder of Blamey Saunders Hears, said this link is caused by the way hearing loss can lead to isolation.
“You may feel confused or detached from what is going on around you or find it hard to communicate in loud or crowded areas,” Dr Saunders says. “You may also feel misunderstood by others or encounter people who don’t understand how to best communicate with you.”
The good news is that the emotional and social consequences of untreated hearing loss can be reversed.
UTEP’s Dr Desjardins studied a group of over-50s with hearing loss who had previously never used hearing aids, to test their memory, attention and cognitive processing speed. After two weeks of using hearing aids, the group showed significant improvement in all three areas.
Dr Saunders notes that the right hearing solution also resolves the isolation issues that lead to anxiety and depression in the first place.
“A holistic approach that includes diet and exercise as well as tools such as hearing aids is often beneficial,” she says. “The best treatment plan for you might not be right for someone else. Don’t give up if you don’t find the right thing, right away.”
Rob, who watched his lawyer father struggle with hearing loss, says it took some time to convince his dad to consider hearing aids.
“Dad had doubts about the effectiveness of hearing aids because of the mixed experiences of his parents,” Rob explains. “Their experience had been influenced by the limitations of hearing technology at the time, and also by the fact that their hearing loss was very severe as a result of time served during World War II.”
But in 2017 Rob introduced his father to the Blamey Saunders Hears online test, which proved a turning point. With the test confirming that he did, in fact, have hearing loss, Rob’s father quickly decided to purchase Blamey Saunders hearing aids.
“After the clinic session, we took my parents out to dinner at a noisy restaurant,” Rob recalls of the day his father was fitted with his devices. “Dad could hear everything we said, even without watching us speak. The following day, we were watching cricket on TV and he could hear all the commentary, even with the volume at a low level.
“Yesterday we visited a guitar shop in Collingwood so he could try out playing while wearing his hearing aids. He could make out the sound of the pick striking the strings. All the musicality of the instrument was still present with the hearing aids. Now he never wants to take them out!”
At Blamey Saunders Hears, you may meet or talk to Daniel Pistritto, whose difficulties as a person with hearing loss drove him to retrain as an audiometrist. Today he conducts hearing assessments for other people with hearing loss, so he can recommend the best hearing devices for their personal situation.
“I can easily relate to the difficulties that my clients have, because I have experienced these same problems myself,” he says. “I find it empowering to talk about my hearing loss to people and share my experiences so that no one has to go through what I did.
“As a result of this change in attitude towards my hearing loss, I am a much happier person and I see my deafness as my greatest strength.”
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with hearing loss or know someone affected by it, Daniel shares sound advice on how to manage the condition.
IHearYou® enables you to tune your acoustic preferences yourself, without visiting an audiologist. It is compatible with most smartphones, tablets, and Windows computers. The app enables you to optimise your hearing aid settings for the different situations you encounter, like a noisy cafe or a sports stadium. No clinic visits necessary!