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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - November 2011 

It could be you ....

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers. 

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column. 


IT COULD BE YOU...

The hardship and loneliness associated with hearing loss

Huh? You what?

Three retirees, each with a hearing loss, were taking a walk one fine March day.
One remarked to the other, "Windy, isn't it?"
"No," the second man replied, "It's Thursday."
And the third man chimed in, "So am I. Let's go to the pub."

Gradual loss of hearing is something that can be so subtle and start at an unexpectedly early age that the person involved might not even realise it is happening. Any comments from family or friends are likely to be dismissed with “Well you always mutter these days.” Or “ You need to speak clearly you know.”

Almost 9 million people in the UK, 1 in 7 of the population, suffer from
deafness or experience significant hearing difficulty.

Age related hearing loss normally begins at around 50, and 55% of people over 60 are deaf or hard of hearing. Over 70 % of people over 70 have some degree of hearing loss.

Although hearing loss has traditionally affected more men than women, it is an affliction of later years that can, in varying degrees, affect anyone. Those who have had jobs involving being close to loud machinery or noise of other kinds are at increased risk.

I have had conversations so close to the one I featured at the beginning of the article with my husband, who uses hearing aids, so we’re familiar with the mutual hilarity, or at times, the mutual frustration of being mis-heard or mis-understood. I’m often accused of ‘mussertating’, his word for muttering, and for my part I’m pretty sure I speak very clearly – providing my G&T isn’t too strong. I counter-accuse my husband of not concentrating. There is his magical hope that “If I respond to what I think I’ve heard – even though she mussertates – I won’t be far off the mark”. Well sometimes it works and sometimes he’s so far out that I am compelled to think carefully about exactly what I’ve said to him to prompt such a remark! My father, who became quite deaf in his seventies after a lifetime using noisy farm machinery, would ask me to repeat everything I said to him even if he heard it, so natural had the habit become. After a day in his company my throat ached from having to ‘speak up’. But my mother had sadly given up the effort. She spent most evenings in the kitchen, reading. “The tv’s loud enough to follow programmes from here.” She said.

Hearing loss has always been the source of many jokes, but that masks the hardship and loneliness associated with the condition. There are friends with whom we occasionally go out to dinner who have to select their restaurant very carefully indeed. They try to find somewhere with carpet, or at least curtaining and soft furnishings. The modern fashion for hard surfaces, wood, concrete and stone floors etc, means that for the person with hearing loss the evening could be one of exhausting efforts to follow conversation, almost shouted, above the crescendo of other diner’s voices, creating a self perpetuating wall of noise. Or the diner with hearing loss can give up and ‘check out’ of conversation altogether, nodding, smiling, watching friend’s faces with a feeling of depressing isolation. The only person the hard surfaces suits in the end is the proprietor, who will find it so much simpler and quicker to clean at the end of the evening. Another friend turns down most invitations to social events due to this feeling of being cut off from conversation. It is easy for some people with deafness to become depressed and very lonely in this situation.

We take our senses for granted for so many years and hardly notice if hearing isn’t what it used to be. One beautiful evening a few years ago, on holiday in France, we took a walk after supper in the near dark. The stars shone in a glossy, darkening sky, it was still and hot and everywhere crickets were chirruping noisily, yet my husband had no idea what an important part they played in making that walk such a great pleasure for me – we couldn’t share it. Birdsong too is often a singular pleasure. The isolation can work both ways.

The noise of a kettle, a pan boiling over, traffic approaching when out walking, a grandchild crying upstairs, the clicking of a car indicator which has failed to cancel, even a mobile phone ringing in the pocket, are all noises which need to be heard.

There are so many reasons why hearing problems need to be taken seriously:-

  • Not hearing well is isolating, not just for the person but their partner, who wants to share experiences and for anyone who needs or wants to talk with them.
  • A young grandchild might feel grandma or grandpa ignores them when they say something. Pretty soon the child will avoid contact with their deaf grandparent.
  • It can remove a whole raft of delight we can take for granted but are part of the joy of living. Imagine not hearing birdsong or the first happy gurgles of a baby.
  • Loss of hearing can be dangerous
  • It can be the cause of many arguments in a relationship unless treated.

The gradual onset of deafness might not be noticed by the person to whom it is happening as quickly as it is by spouses, partners or work colleagues. Once it is mentioned a few times and there have been a few arguments about not speaking clearly, or complaints about the tv being too quiet, it is time to have a hearing check – for everyone’s sake. Hearing aids are nothing like the NHS ones of old – even the NHS has gone digital – and they are much easier to get used to and being smaller are comfortable and discreet to wear. When telling someone they need to have their hearing checked it is important to voice this as a concern not a criticism. Going deaf isn’t something people choose to do, but they might not be aware of the affect it is having on those around them.

An elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for a number of years.
He went to the doctor who prescribed a set of excellent hearing aids that allowed the gentleman to hear 100%.
The elderly gentleman went back in a month to the doctor and the doctor said, "Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again."

To which the gentleman said, "Oh, I haven't told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. I've changed my will three times!"

www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/
Action on Hearing Loss is the new name of RNID, the largest charity representing the 10 million people who are deaf or have a hearing loss in the UK.

www.nhs.uk/Livewell/hearing-problems


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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