(BPT) – Sheliadawn Fitch would wonder if it really was possible for her to hear again. But she would shove aside those thoughts, overcome by fear and uncertainty, telling herself she was doing okay.
Not that you could blame her. The vivacious Texan had been through a lot, having lost much of her ability to hear speech when she was around 40 years old. Following an air bag injury, she suffered from an ear infection that led to her profound hearing loss. Fitch’s hearing aids didn’t go far enough to restore quality hearing, so they were useless.
She suspected she was a good candidate for cochlear implants, but the idea of going through with the procedure struck her with fear.
‘I really thought that since I was an excellent lip reader that I could get by just fine,’ says Fitch, who is now 54.
Eventually, things got worse. She faced missing out on fully participating in her daughter’s wedding and she was stricken when she realized people were actually avoiding her.
‘Not only did that hurt my feelings, I was always the type who was overly involved in school, community and church events,’ Fitch says. ‘Things just weren’t working out for me or my lifestyle.’
The silent affliction
Fitch is far from alone. Hearing loss is one of those silent afflictions that impacts millions. In addition, it tends to cut people off from the world so the general population may not realize just how widespread it is.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 36 million Americans have hearing loss, affecting 17 percent of our adult population. When you look at the older adult population, the rate of hearing loss is even more startling. It affects one third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74, and nearly half of those over the age of 75, the NIDCD further states.
What’s more, a high percentage of people with hearing loss, like Fitch, find ways to cope with it rather than pursue treatments. Only 30 percent of adults ages 70 and older who can benefit from hearing aids try them, according to the NIDCD. Others with more severe hearing loss, like Fitch, may be reluctant to pursue other solutions such as cochlear implants.
This exile from the world can be lonely as well as debilitating. In several studies cited by the NIDCD, researchers have found the isolation imposed by hearing loss is one underlying cause of depression and decreased cognitive function found in adults who become prisoners in their muted world.
Is it time to look for a different solution?
If you’ve tried hearing aids but wondered if you were a candidate for cochlear implants, here are three signs that confirm you may be suffering from the effects of severe or profound hearing loss.
1. You avoid your hearing aids.
Fitch was outfitted with hearing aids. At first she was overjoyed she could hear sounds again, but it eventually dawned on her that something critical was missing from the quality of those sounds.
‘I was hearing, but not really understanding,’ says Fitch. ‘Everything was louder. I needed clarity, not just volume.’
In fact, Fitch got headaches from straining to sift through the din of background noise to understand what people were saying to her. Eventually, she had to abandon them and rely on her lip-reading skills.
2. Family dynamics are becoming strained.
With more severe hearing loss that’s not helped by hearing aids, you may notice changes in how your friends and family interact. Family members may frequently comment on the too-loud television or radio, or note the noise is interfering with their sleep. Perhaps they’re showing more frustration and impatience because they’re frequently misunderstood or asked to repeat themselves.
3. You dread rather than look forward to special occasions.
When there’s ongoing hearing loss, family milestones and special occasions may come with a special sense of dread and sadness, driving painful choices. Do you suffer through an unpleasant event or do you stay home and disappoint your family? Perhaps a family member who serves as your ‘human hearing aid’ can’t attend and you can’t face the idea of attending alone without your ‘ears.’
Finding courage to take the next step
After seven-and-a-half years of living with hearing loss, it was the upcoming wedding of her daughter and the arrival of her future grandchildren that brought Fitch to the tipping point. She realized she ‘might miss all of it.’ That startling idea finally gave her enough courage to ask a doctor for help.
One option for Fitch and others who suffer from profound hearing loss is a Cochlear Nucleus Implant System (www.cochlear.com). While hearing aids only amplify sounds, cochlear implants help make them louder and clearer. Improving the clarity of hearing may help someone better understand speech in both quiet and noisy situations. There are two primary components of the Cochlear Nucleus System: the implant that is surgically placed underneath the skin and the external sound processor. To receive the implant, Fitch needed a CAT scan and clearance from her doctor. Several weeks after the surgery, her new Cochlear system was activated.
‘And I heard and understood from that day on,’ she says.
‘I didn’t miss those wedding vows, or the dance music afterwards, and most importantly, I heard my grandbabies cry their first cries.’
Views expressed herein are those of the individual. Consult your hearing health provider to determine if you are a candidate for cochlear implant technology. Outcomes and results may vary.
* There is an enormous untapped talent pool of fully functioning individuals, says Shireen Hafeez, founder of Deaf Kids Code. Deaf people are currently caught in the school to couch cycle, and Shireen discusses how we can help these fully functioning individuals break this cycle and assimilate into the work force.
Shireen Hafeez is the founder of Deaf Kids Code. Her root in Deaf causes goes back to the diagnosis of her own son. She spent many years being involved with heavy advocacy and activism on a variety of levels that have included efforts in lobbying for insurance companies to cover hearing aids for babies and children diagnosed. She has been a guest lecturer at Purdue University for years, and has served on the boards for several organizations; which support this population.
She embarked on a new initiative aimed specifically to impact the severe unemployment/ underemployment gap in the deaf/hard of hearing community. She started this nonprofit organization to help students and educators realize that computing skills will shatter the barriers that have prevented those from obtaining full economic and social participation. Based on the first principle that the ‘digital age is the great equalizer’, she considers herself an ‘itinerant STEAM stimulator’. Traveling around from various regions
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx
Deaf Kids Code | Shireen Hafeez | TEDxPurdueU