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Learning to live with hearing loss

Members of the hearing help classes aboard the Spirit at Killaloe as part of a recreational outing in July. From right to left, Barbara Kearse, Mary Foley, Mary O’Grady, Bríd Dillon, Phil Keane and Bríd Crowe, who are all from Ennis.Sound is something we all take for granted, whether it is hearing a conversation in a crowded room or being able to go to mass and hear the priest’s sermon, but what if you suffered from hearing loss?

How would you cope in a crowded pub with music playing, trying to decipher what the person next to you is saying? Or what if you were unable to hear someone on the phone? How many times would you ask that person to repeat what they had said before hanging up and blaming it on bad reception? These are some of the situations that those who are hard of hearing come across in their daily lives.
However, with DeafHear.ie, a national voluntary non-profit organisation that has a local base in Limerick, those with hearing loss are finding ways of dealing with the loss of their hearing and are learning how to cope with such trying situations.
As a qualified hearing therapist with DeafHear.ie, Scariff resident Geraldine Colleran gives one-to-one advice on hearing loss, how to deal with it and how best to accommodate that hearing loss. Geraldine conducts hearing help classes in Ennis, Limerick and Nenagh, where she provides aural rehabilitation for those who are hard of hearing.
“When someone acquires a hearing loss, it’s a very traumatic experience and, as a result, they go through all the emotions. They go through denial number one – ‘everyone is muttering’, then anger – ‘why me’, then the depression and finally acceptance and then they begin to do something about their loss. The first port of call that we advise is to go and have a hearing test. If people are entitled to get free hearing aids then we advise them to go to see their GP and he will refer them on to the community audiology services, which are based in St Joseph’s Hospital in Ennis. Once someone has accepted their hearing loss, they need to know how best to deal with it,” Geraldine advised.
She added that it was hugely important to know the type of hearing loss, as every type is different.
“Knowledge about their hearing loss is power really and once they have accepted they have the loss they then have to deal with it at work, at home and socially and that is very difficult. They say an individual with a hearing loss means that a family has a problem because it affects everyone,” Geraldine said.
Lissycasey man Kieran Melican is a social worker with DeafHear.ie, who provides family support. DeafHear.ie will also be holding family nights next spring, which aim to provide better understanding of hearing loss for families affected.
Through her hearing help classes, Geraldine teaches a range of techniques to those with acquired hearing loss and helps them come to terms with the loss.
“Spoken communication is very important in daily life. We need to have the other person understand us and through lip reading, facial expression and body language, we can get a lot of messages. In the classes, we also teach coping mechanisms to deal with difficult listening situations – how to best train yourself to listen better, how not to panic in a situation and to be more assertive about what you need. There are simple points for communication like facing people and having good light on a speaker’s face.
“People go through this period when they pretend they hear. It’s easier to pretend than to say what did you say, what did you say, which is very embarrassing. People need to know how to cope and through the classes, they do. They become more confident and get more self-esteem. They learn how to tell people in an assertive way how to accommodate them,” she explained.
DeafHear.ie also provides advice on technology and helps assess people for suitability for deaf tech products. For instance, specialised doorbells are available that have a flashing light or a tactile device that would vibrate. The organisation also gives advice on television listening devices and subtitling.
Geraldine’s class is also a support group and she said those with a hearing loss often think they’re suffering on their own.
“They don’t realise how many people are out there. I think that hearing loss is second only to arthritis in the world of conditions that people present with. While technology is advancing, it addresses the physical part of hearing but where we’re coming from is that we are addressing the psychological, emotional, feelings of loss, lack of self-esteem and confidence,” Geraldine added.
Kathleen Bolger of New Road in Ennis has been going to the classes with Geraldine for almost 10 years and outlines the benefits it has had for her.
“One of the main things I get out of it is that you meet people in the same predicament. You learn about the technology that you can get, such as hearing aids and I got a gadget that you can put under your pillow so when the phone rings it vibrates. That’s been great for me. I also have a loop system for the television at home. These are the types of things that I wouldn’t have known about only for the club,” she said.
Kathleen explained that worrying situations can be exacerbated due to a hearing loss and she has found the hospital especially trying.
“There have been a few times when I was in hospital that it became a near nightmare. I had a CAT scan done once and I wasn’t sure whether the technology would destroy my hearing. I said it to the nurses and they hadn’t a clue and yet they wanted me to be able to hear to talk to me and tell me when to breathe in or breathe out. These are the things that you come up against.
“The most awful thing happened when I got my eyes done and as they’re working behind you, you can’t see them. Again, I had told the doctors that I had a hearing aid. During the procedure I could feel what was like water going into my ear and I said to the doctor, ‘There’s water, you can’t let water into the hearing aid because it will destroy the microphone in it’. The doctor was telling me to stay still, not to move or I’d lose my sight. I nearly sweated blood. It was terrible. But there again, he needs to speak to you and you can’t take out the hearing aid. Those are the problems that you come up against,” she outlined.
“People don’t realise the power of language and a good speaking voice. On a one-to-one, we’re all fine but in a crowded situation with loud music or noise, it’s very difficult. Put me into a noisy situation and I just won’t get there. I won’t go out to the pub because of the noise, because someone might come up to me who I know well and they might start talking to me and I might be saying ‘yes’ when I should be saying ‘no’ and you feel bad. You just don’t want to look stupid, so I wouldn’t go to weddings or anything. I don’t feel isolated when I go out. It’s just the crowded situations and the loud noises that I avoid,” Kathleen added.
She explained how a loop system makes social situations much easier for her. “I have a digital hearing aid with a loop system in it, so if there’s a loop in place in the church or cinema and the loop is on and is working properly you can hear very well. They have it in the Cathedral in Ennis and it’s great.”
However, Kathleen revealed that if it is used incorrectly, it can have a very frustrating effect. One night, she went to the cinema and was getting sound from the film showing at the screen next door.
Deafhear.ie also provides a range of other services, including family support, community services, hearing and communication therapy, mental health and deafness clinics and general information and advice.
For more information, visit www.DeafHear.ie, call 061 467494, email info@deafhear.ie or fax 061 467497.

 

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