There’s a tricky condition called “mother deafness”. This normally occurs when teenaged and dare I mention “Boomerang Kids”, appear incapable of hearing anything their parents and usually their mothers, say to them. This is usually interpreted by the recipient as seriously annoying. The condition is closely related to another ailment called selective hearing and documented evidence indicates that males, particularly husbands and fathers, may be carriers.
Jokes aside, there’s actually a bigger hearing problem bearing down on all of us, yet no one seems to be listening. It’s a collective sound barrier and it comes loaded with shrill implications as the boomer population ages and gradually tunes out. Hearing loss is largely ignored and early detection, in adults, just isn’t happening.
In the UK, an estimated 4 million people have unaddressed hearing loss. It takes most people at least 10 years, before they do anything about it. What a waste. During this time, they miss out on 10 years worth of good hearing, at the same time as making themselves less likely to accept and adapt to wearing assistive devices. Not hearing seems innocuous but its stealth is isolating. Hearing aids, however, are not a fashion accessory and to many users and viewers, they scream old. Worryingly, this is happening in a country with a National Health Service (NHS), where you can roll up and get free, state-of-the-art, digital hearing aids. Meanwhile, in the USA, where, if you can’t hear, you’ll pay dearly for the pleasure; even people who have been fitted with hearing aids, don’t always wear them.
So what gives? The fact is, we really are nowhere near a full understanding of the interaction between cognition and hearing aids . This represents a public health issue with far reaching consequences. because this unaddressed problem is correlated to other physical and mental health issues. Meaning that this kind of head in the sand behaviour translates to greater costs, worsened health outcomes and the emergence of related and more complicated health issues, further down the line.
Early detection is key. Neonatal screening is enjoying success with positive effect but it is the accumulation of people with unaddressed hearing loss that is worthy of closer attention. Unchecked, this will impact a larger number of the ageing work force, year on year. Keeping people in productive employment has demonstrated health benefits and could help lessen the load on pensions and ultimately on health and social care provision. This can only be achieved by keeping hearing impaired people employed, by removing barriers like telephone only based interviews and then making adjustments in the workplace that support people with hearing loss. To pre-empt problems, younger people and those working in at-risk employment settings need to be educated on ear protection. Taking advantage of noise cancelling technology is better than turning up the volume and risking further damage.
Not being able to hear isn’t like other sensory deprivation. If you can’t see you can get glasses, contacts or sign up for some lasik or radial keratotomy. If you can’t taste, smell or touch, it’s clearly a problem but these only affect your personal sensory experience and not the specific experience of those around you. Hearing is different. Normal communication relies on hearing. Mishearing can be funny and embarrassing so it makes perfect fodder for annual compilations and comedians like Peter Kay. On the flip side, mishearing is also very disempowering.
The International Longevity Centre in London has recently chaired a two part commission on hearing loss in the House of Lords. The evidence from the commission was overwhelming. Hearing loss, like ageing, is well below the radar on the agenda. A quarter of people with compromised hearing leave their GP’s without understanding what their doctor has told them or the treatments they need. The situation in the US is also dire, national funding is at an historic low and even the recent formation of a research consortium of the six largest hearing aid manufacturers, has shown only token success in two minimally funded proposals. Patient advocacy in this area is seriously wanting.
The truth is, sometimes we don’t even realize and perhaps don’t want to realize that our hearing is going. We need to normalize this loss. Cilla Black, now 70, the English chanteuse and media personality is believed to have had cochlear implants inserted. Observant family and friends need to be more proactive. Society has to recognize that the majority demographic is struggling. Hearing loss is very democratic and if you live, it’s likely to happen to you.
Time to hear ye, hear ye not come again?
A version of this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post – The Blog and is republished with permission.