Living with a hearing impairment
When you first get your referral letter for your hearing aid(s), it can be a bewildering time for you because there is nothing included with it just to let you know what to expect and quite often your hearing services center is in a different building – possibly one you have never even seen in your life – I know mine was. So I’m enclosing a few notes here just to lay your mind to rest a little.
On this first appointment, it should take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and you can expect a hearing test where they pop the headphones on and get you to press the button whenever you hear a beep or whistle. If you have tinnitus, you might find that the hearing test might make it worse for a while.
After that, they might give you a laminated card and get you to point at a certain picture while they play certain words at differing volumes.
Then, they might give you a big box that has three lights around the edges and ask you to press and hold the button for as long as you hear the sound. Personally, I found this a little annoying and silly – but younger children might enjoy doing it.
Remember, these are tests with no right or wrong answer since we are all unique and no 2 people will suffer the exact same hearing condition.
They will now take a mold of your ear(s) by pushing a little plug into your ear(s) and filling your ear with a dough-like substance that will set hard in a little while. If you are having two molds made, you might like having both done at the same time or you might prefer the audiologist to take the molds one at a time. Either is fine but be sure to ask that they do the mold taking the way that you like and don’t get fobbed off with the “We are busy” talk – the real reason they like to do both together is to save on the dough not because they are too busy to do your molds one at a time.
This is all they can do for you this visit, so they’ll ask you to make an appointment for 6 weeks time on your way out. While you are waiting for that appointment, they are busy making your mold(s)
I get my hearing aid(s) today... What should I expect?
This will vary from center to center and hearing aid(s) to hearing aid(s) but I’ll talk you through the process with a Behind The Ear (BTE) hearing aid.
If you get to see your ear mold before they put it into your ear, you’ll see that it has a long tube sticking out of it. They’ll then rest your hearing aid(s) behind your ear(s) and cut the tubing at a level where they feel you will be able to wear it comfortably. Don’t worry if it’s still a little long at this point – you can snip off any extra at home yourself. You won’t know at this point if your tube is slightly short – but you will find out in due course (more on this in a following module)!!!
They’ll then remove both parts of your hearing aid(s) and push the Behind The Ear part onto your tubing, Then they will insert it into your ear. If the hearing aid is switched on during this process, it will whistle until it is positioned correctly. Now you have your hearing aid in and turned on, everything might seem LOUD or quiet – both of these are perfectly normal responses and your aid can be adjusted to a level you are happy with.
To adjust your hearing aid(s), you can expect the audiologist to plug a wire into your hearing aid. The other end of the wire will be plugged into a laptop and s/he will press some keys. While they are pressing keys, it can be common to hear beeps, buzzes and feel like your hearing aid has switched off altogether. The audiologist will ask you if that is better and wait for your response before continuing.
After this process is complete, you can expect to be receiving a book or card for some batteries and your repairs. As this is your first hearing aid(s), you’ll be given 2 books of 6 batteries and you can expect to be asked to retain all the spent batteries and labels because you’ll need them to “trade-in” on new batteries.
You’ll now be free to leave and get used to your new hearing aid(s).
I would advise that you do not try to wear them all day at this point because it’s not uncommon to get soreness in the ear, ear ache, or headache. Start at just a few hours and work your way up from there.
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Okay, I have my hearing aid(s)... What next?
Now that you have your hearing aid(s), be aware of any rubbing or soreness where the tubing comes up from the mold to the hearing aid. If you get this and the hearing aid isn’t sitting snugly on the back of the ear, you need to cut the tubing a little more. To do this, remove the tubing from the hearing aid and place it on the back of your ear (like you are wearing it), then measure the point where the hearing aid meets the tubing and cut there then re-assemble the hearing aid.
Be sure to soak your ear mold(s) in water (either hot or cold, but I don’t advise boiling water because boiling water may melt your tubing) that contains a little dish detergent over night, then before you put them in in the morning, wipe them down with a cloth and blow any water out of the tubing. If you have 2 hearing aids and suffer with ear infections, don’t soak both molds together or you might contaminate your other ear.
If your tubing comes out of your mold, you need to make an appointment with your hearing services center (the place where your hearing aid came from) because you either have the wrong size tubing in or your tubing needs to be glued into your mold. If you need a temporary fix though, you may be able to push the tubing back into your mold until it sits flush with the hole that it came out of. Don’t be tempted to push it in that little bit further “to try to get it to stay in place” though because it won’t. Don’t be tempted to try to glue it in place using super glue either. While super glue will see that it stays in place, it can create problems when it comes to replacing your tubing.
If you feel a soreness under the top part of your ear, you’ll also need to make an appointment with your Hearing Services Center because you need to have a little ground off the top of your mold – although you could do this yourself, I do not recommend it because the mold might be too rough afterwards or you could take too much off and end up having to pay for a new mold.
In other areas of your life with hearing aid(s), I’d advise you to make an appointment for a “Home Assessment” with Social Services because, even though you now have hearing aid(s), there are still items out there that can make your life easier still. For example, you might still struggle to hear the tv (with or without your hearing aid(s) in, a loop system would greatly improve this. You might want a flashing alarm clock and fire alarm as well – they can provide these.
Bear in mind though that there are a wide number of loop systems available on the market and although a portable loop system might be best for some people, they aren’t necessarily the best idea if you or a family member suffers from poor mobility. Also, make a point of telling the social worker if you use your hearing aid(s) a lot or you are an occasional user – there is no right or wrong in your decision but there are loop systems that allow you to use them both with and without your hearing aid(s) in.
Social Services no longer provide doorbells or telephones in some areas of the UK, if yours is one of those affected, you can buy them through Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the Royal National Institute for the Deaf [RNID]).
If you rent your property from a council/housing association or private landlord, request a second copy of your Home Assessment for your records, then send it to your landlord with a request that they are aware that you are registered as disabled – they should then accommodate your needs better in future. You can also request that your landlord doesn’t contact you by telephone because you prefer to be contacted by letter.
How to make my general life easier
I am deaf – or hard of hearing as the government over here like to call it. A lot of the time, I’ll say nothing about it unless I see the opportunity to make life a little easier for other members of the deaf community.
The reason for this is mainly because the response I tend to get is “I’m Sorry”. My response to this is why are you sorry? Sure, I’m deaf and it’s not nice but I’ve had a whole lifetime to adapt to my disability. Having people feel sorry for me as a result of my disability isn’t nice for me.
I’ve learned how to interact in ways where my hearing loss is seldom noticed, largely thanks to my ability to lip-read what people are saying to me although I’m unable to sign at this point in time.
One of the most annoying aspects of my hearing loss always has to be tinnitus (ringing/buzzing/whistling in the ears) since these attacks just seem to last longer and longer each time. The only thing that seems to ease this is to blast it out with music and one thing that can trigger tinnitus for me is when I have a hearing test and hear high pitched noises.
While I do like people to keep my disability in mind, I don’t like people making an example of me without my consent – but with that said, I don’t mind helping to educate others to the life I face everyday. So if you want me to speak about how my hearing loss affects me to other people, please ask me first rather than springing it on me during a lesson. Even if you have experience of deaf or hearing impaired people, please do not assume that you know everything because you don’t and never will know everything, no textbook or lecture on the planet can ever tell you everything that there is to know – even I am learning new things.
Now that I’ve been through a few bits and bobs, I’m going to go through a few Q&A that can actually make life easier on the deaf person.
I’ve noticed that you wear a hearing aid, should I SHOUT so you can hear me better?
A) Actually, shouting could be the worst thing you can do, especially at close range because I won’t hear you any better. If anything it will make matters worse since my hearing aids will either distort or try to turn themselves down rapidly so that when you talk normally, I’ll have to wait for them to turn up to the right volume again before I can hear you. It’s also helpful to remember that even though I might be wearing my hearing aids, I might still be lip reading you as well and shouting distorts the mouth thus making it harder to read.
If I have the older hearing aids, I might start to get a headache after you’ve been shouting for a while and that can lead to feelings of frustration for me.
What can I do to make your life easier when you aren’t wearing your hearing aid/s?
This is a question that will always vary from person to person but I find it a big help if you face me when you are talking and either cut gestures out or try to keep them to the minimum so that I can focus more on your lips and “see” what you are saying. You might need to speak a little louder than usual, but again, it’s important that you don’t shout at me
If I’m in a school setting, it can be a big help to me if I can go into the room a couple of minutes before the rest of the class and pick out the seat that would be best for me to sit in for my lessons.
Normally, I’ll only have to do this just once for the whole course and the reason I ask this is because I have to consider the acoustics of the room and balance that to coincide with if I can see the tutor should I need to lip read him/her, can I hear him/her during short bursts when I’m writing notes or I’m not wearing my hearing aid/s?
If I’m late for class for any reason, it’s a huge help if my chair is left empty for me because it’s less embarrassing than having to remove a fellow student when I arrive – I don’t like to be the center of attention.
Why have you taken your hearing aid/s out?
First of all, I’d just like to state that I haven’t removed my hearing aid(s) because I am bored by what you are saying, there are other underlying reasons behind me doing it.
There are a number of possible reasons for this and the most usual suspects for me are:-
1) Itching in the ear canal
2) Ear ache
3) Itching or soreness where the hearing aid(s) rests behind my ear
4) Flat battery
5) Ear infection
6) Background noise to high (shouting or group work)
7) Room is too echoy
Should I demand that you put your hearing aid back in?
As far as I’m concerned, demanding that I re-insert my hearing aid(s) is about the worst thing you can do because I’ll simply dig my heels in and do as I want. After all, you don’t know why I removed my aid(s) in the first place and if I’m in pain as a result of wearing my aids, is it really fair that I continue to suffer because you want me to wear my hearing aids?
I once had first hand experience of a teacher (who should have known better really) who used to stand right beside me and shout “RIGHT” (always just that one word). Looking back on it, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem had he been doing it now that I’m more used to wearing hearing aids but at that time, I was just getting used to the equivalent of trading in my human ears for those of a dog.
Many’s the time I took my hearing aid (I only wore one at that time) out and literally threw it across the table. He’d come over and tell me to put it back in, but I wouldn’t. At other times, I’d simply reach behind my ear and flick it off. Having long hair helped a lot at that time because he could never tell if I had it on or not.
How to make my education easier
This post is mainly aimed at teachers, tutors etc. because it’s surprising just how many of these people are still largely unaccommodating of deaf students and can inadvertently affect their education in a negative way.
How can I make your time in my class easier?
Perhaps the simplest thing you can do could happen about 5 minutes before the first lesson. All you need to do is let me into the classroom 5 minutes before everyone else. I might speak aloud a little or rattle a few things about such as chairs or books This will allow me to test how echoy the room is and pick a seat to factor this in. After this, I’ll sit in the same seat every lesson, so if I’m late for my lesson one day, it’d be a HUGE help if you could keep this seat empty for me so that I can avoid disrupting your lesson when I arrive.
We offer a loop system, would that be any help to you?
A loop system is only of use to me in certain lessons and those are the lessons where only one person (the one wearing the mic) speaks because of the fact that it filters out all background noise and is therefore useless if you have a group discussion planned. So in order to answer that question, I’d need to know your lesson plan in advance. If you are going to be watching a video clip, consider that the only way I’ll hear it is if the mic is by the TV’s speaker’s – so if the TV trolley isn’t big enough or the speakers are in a different place, you might need some blu tack to temporarily position the mic on the speaker, and because blu tack can be hard to remove from the speaker case explains why I prefer to take your video or DVD home to play on my own computer where I have my own loop system wired up all the time
We are watching a video clip today, will you be okay with that?
Personally, I like to take notes of video clips for future reference and again, I have to cater for how echoy the room is versus the volume of the tv. This tends to put me at a huge disadvantage (even with the loop system) so I’ll usually ask to borrow the video afterwards because I have my own loop system at home which is set just right for me to hear what is said and I can take my notes at the same time.
Why do you prefer to sit out of group work?
This is something that I choose to do because in rooms where several people are taking part in a discussion (even when only one person speaks at a time) I still have unreliable hearing and will often resort back to lip reading at least part of the conversation. Perhaps the biggest challenge I face in group Q&A’s is locating the person who is speaking – quite often by the time that I’ve found them, they have stopped and someone else is speaking. I can’t tell you just how frustrating that is.
In an environment where several people are talking at once, there’s the issue I’ve mentioned above plus the fact that when a student is relying on hearing aid(s), the aids try to tune themselves in to the loudest noise and block out other sounds. That is the way that they work and not something we have any control over.
In a lot of ways, it can be like you trying to have a normal conversation at a football match
Tips for those who have a job that involves visiting deaf people at home
Follow all the advice in the Making my general life easier and add the following:-
1) Knock loudly but not so loud that it sounds like you are bashing the door in. I personally have a dog and if you make her bark, I know you are there.
2) If the deaf person has a sign saying “Press the bell”, press it and listen. Did you hear it ring inside? If not, Knock on the door. It’s possible that the batteries might have run out in the bell and the deaf person is unaware of this fact.
3) While you are carrying out any works – Don’t spend the whole time nattering away on the mobile then stand in the hallway asking “Are you there, mate?”. This just causes confusion as to whom you are talking to.
4) Take the time to ensure that the deaf person is looking at you when you are speaking – even if it means running through the same thing twice.
British Sign language
Learning to sign
Sometimes, learning to sign can be a good thing. For further guidance on this, you can either ask at your Hearing Services Center or (for adults) check your local Adult Education Center.
If your child is deaf or hard of hearing, you could also ask at school to see if they offer sign language classes or are prepared to teach the student’s in your child’s class how to sign. Some school’s will while others won’t. If your school doesn’t and your family is learning to sign at home, then your child may be able to pass on their knowledge to their class mates in other ways. If one child each shows 5 other children how to sign, then it won’t be long before it spreads through the whole school. If you attend sign language courses during the summer holidays, it could be a great thing to include in the “What I did in the holidays” essay that all schools seem to request when school goes back.
Sign language or lip reading can both be good things for “Show and Tell” as well because your child isn’t physically taking anything into school so nothing can get lost but at the same time, they still have a project that they can show and tell the class about.
If just one person goes, they can teach the whole family and it won’t be long before you are all signing to each other!
One thing you may or may not know about sign language is that there are huge differences between American Sign Language and British Sign Language - which is why I've included both in this article. If life wasn't confusing enough already, I've also added a video for Mackaton sign language which is also used here in Britain.
American Sign Language
Which is better?
There is now a greater choice on where you can go to get NHS Hearing aids – you can either go to your local NHS Hearing aid center or the private center that some NHS Areas are offering.
I’m not about to be drawn in and say out right that one is better than the other because that’s not what this lens is about – instead, I aim to arm you with information to allow you to make a decision on your own.
1) When I attended my NHS Hearing Services Center, I found that the journey was a long one and there was no guarantees I would be able to make it into the Center on time because it was hard to find parking outside. Since I registered at the private clinic, this is a thing of the past.
2) When I went to the NHS Hearing Services Center, I felt that I was “just another number in the book” and they didn’t really have the time to sit and listen to me and my concerns. This is now a thing of the past.
3) When I attended my NHS Hearing services, I only had one hearing test in all the time that I was there (over 10 years). I’ve had one at my private clinic thus far.
4) When I Went to the NHS Hearing Services, I had a solid plastic mold which required several return trips to get the fit right. Now I have a soft mold. In one sense, I preferred the solid rubber ones for the simple reasons being:-
a) The solid ones are easier to remove and insert since they have the big hole in the mold
b) The tubing keeps coming out of the mold on the new ones which requires repeated appointments to resolve unless you want to have to keep repositioning it yourself every time you remove or insert your hearing aid(s)
c) Ear infections were a less common occurrence with the solid molds.
At the same time, the flexible molds are better because:-
a) You get a comfier fit – They don’t hurt if you fall asleep wearing them.
5) The NHS Hearing Services Center is better because they have the loop system wired into the TV in the waiting room.
6) The NHS Hearing Services Center is better because you don’t have the children screaming, crying etc.
I still have my hearing and I don't want to lose it... what should I do?
A lot of this section will seem old-fashioned but it dies work.
Tip 1:- Look after your ears:- They won’t thank you for going to that disco last Saturday night. As well as the possibility of ending up deaf, you might also end up with tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing and/or whistling noise in the ear(s) – it’s also untreatable – although you can buy relievers, your tinnitus will always return.
Tip 2:- Never insert anything smaller than your elbow into your ear – Including cotton buds. Remember, your ears are self cleaning so you don’t actually need to delve into them although you might need to clean around the edges occasionally.
Tip 3:- IF you have bobbins or grommets in your ears, NEVER go swimming or submerge your ears in water whilst the grommet or bobbin is still in. I know it’s a pain but if it makes the grommet or bobbin stay in for longer then it’s worth it.
Once I have my hearing aid(s) and it fits properly, when should I expect to go back to my hearing services department?
The simple answer to this is never!
Once you have your hearing aid(s) and they fit correctly, you don’t need to go back to your Hearing services Center unless your hearing aid is broken or your hearing has improved or worsened.
If you live nearby your hearing services center, you might find it easiest to simply pop in with your book or card to obtain replacement batteries, otherwise you can simply post your book and spent batteries to the address on the back of the book. Or you could ask your GP for a battery exchange point in the area where you live.
Help! I'm on holiday and I've run out of batteries
As long as you are in the UK, you can pop to a chemist where you are with either the book of batteries you have or the spent battery in your hearing aid and purchase some to see you through your holiday. I know for a fact that Boots tend to be a good source of emergency hearing aid batteries. Just be sure to retain the spent battery from your hearing aid for your book at home – and don’t mix your emergency batteries with your NHS batteries because the NHS ones are rechargeable and the emergency ones tend not to be.
I also don’t advise using batteries from outside the UK in your NHS hearing aid(s) – some aren’t of the same quality as the ones in the UK and can be prone to leaking which opens up a whole new can of worms.
If you live a good way away from your hearing services center, it’s also worth looking into if there’s anywhere nearer to you that will replenish your spent batteries… now, a lot of the time, your hearing services center doesn’t like divulging this information – so don’t be afraid to ask your GP or even another deaf person from within your community where they go. You can always give them a call and ask if they’ll do yours as well so you have nothing to lose.
If you move to a new home, make a point of checking in with a doctor – although you might be in the same area as your old home, the system might have been altered since you were signed up.