Swimming in a sea of hearing loss

As a follow up to one of my previous posts, I recently attended a hearing loss support group that was organized by the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  The attendees were all residents of Goodwin House Alexandria a continuing care retirement community. Several of the attendees had hearing aids, some were concerned about hearing loss and gathering information, and some were living with people that had hearing loss.

After a few people shared their challenges of hearing loss, I was reminded that I had been in “similar place” that they were describing many times . . . in the swimming pool!

I love swimming laps, however I am legally blind in one eye (and have very poor uncorrected vision in the other) and due to a nasty ear ache problem I also use earplugs. I really like the formalized workouts that a Master’s Swim Team can offer, but even with prescription goggles it’s hard to clearly see the facial expressions of the other swimmers in between sets, and with the ear plugs it’s hard to hear them too! Consequently, I tend to be withdrawn and less engaged at these workouts because I can’t “be myself”. It’s frustrating because these workouts are really are a great opportunity to socialize with some like-minded people!

This is what individuals with hearing loss face on a daily basis. This is especially common in environments with background noise. I am now much more aware of just how much background noise exists, especially in “social” environments like barbeques, happy hours, parties, sporting events, etc. Several of the attendees at the support group cited that they have had to avoid these types of events entirely. When they do attend events like this it can be “exhausting” because of the effort that it takes to engage in conversation, or having to slide into the background when everyone else is having a great time.

One of the things that I learned is that hearing aids are not like glasses. They generally don’t return someone’s hearing to “normal” however they can work well to enhance our ability to hear. All the attendees with hearing aids cited that they still struggle with background noise.  I have been guilty of talking to someone with a hearing aid and assuming that they might hear “better” than me! I am grateful to have a different perspective now! You can also see why hearing loss is sometimes referred to as an “invisible condition”.

Support group leader, Bonnie O’Leary let each of us share our challenges and questions. Many questions we related to hearing aids and assistive technology. She had several samples. One of the most dramatic examples was an assisted listening device (PockeTalker Pro – pictured to the left) that several of the attendees with and without hearing aids tried out. This device was basically a microphone that a person you are talking to would hold and the person with hearing loss wears a small earphone. I wish I had a picture to share with you of one of the men using this device . . . it was like he received a present, and he was wearing a hearing aid!

Once again I am discovering that I can better understand and relate to the emotion that individuals face by immersing myself in a particular transition and strive to have a perspective of hearing loss being something that affects “me” instead of “them”.  Expect some more posts on this topic in the future!


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