Coming to terms with progressive hearing loss and preparing for the future

A recent test revealed that Tamara’s hearing has dropped to ‘severe’. Describing it as a ‘scary reality check’, Tamara says she’s realised now is the time to take control and prepare for what could come next. In this article, she shares 3 things that have helped her take those important first steps whilst experiencing hearing loss. 

My experience of progressive hearing loss 

I’ve had a hearing loss for most of my life and I have been wearing hearing aids for 12 years. My hearing loss is sensorineural (SNHL), which means the tiny hair cells in my inner ear responsible for transmitting sound to the brain are dying. In my case, it is happening at an abnormally fast rate. 

It is unlikely that I will ever know the cause, but what I do know is that my progressive hearing loss could one day plunge me into complete silence. This is quite hard for me to contemplate, and my typical coping mechanism is to keep it tucked away in the depths of my mind so I can carry on as ‘normal’. It’s only really when I have my annual hearing tests that the true reality of my hearing loss hits me – when I see the lines on the audiogram positioned several points lower than they did years before, edging closer and closer to the end of the scale, and to the end of ‘sound’. 

“Your hearing loss is getting worse”  

My most recent hearing test was a particularly scary reality check. It revealed that in the past four years, my hearing loss – mainly in my right ear – has fallen from moderate to severe. If the same rate of progression continues over the next decade I will end up profoundly deaf, which means my natural hearing will be all but gone in my right ear. Ultimately, I don’t have a lot of time to continue ‘carrying on as normal’ and this made me realise that I need to be better prepared for how my life could change in the coming years.

woman with hearing loss wearing a cochlear implant

1. Exploring my options: Cochlea Implants and hearing aid technology 

Following my hearing test, the first thing I did was ‘Google’ cochlea implants. Recognised as a next step for those with profound hearing loss, a cochlea implant is an electronic device that ‘manufactures’ hearing by bypassing the damaged ear to stimulate the auditory nerve and send signals to the brain. It involves surgery and several months of rehabilitation, but the success rate is quite high – particularly for adults who have retained some sound memory following a progressive decline of their hearing.  

While I have friends with a cochlea implant (and therefore have seen how valuable they can be for restoring hearing to some degree), reading about them in more depth helped to put my mind at ease and feel less fearful of what’s to come. 

In addition, I booked a follow-up appointment with my audiologist to discuss a hearing aid upgrade and how to ensure I am making the most of the ever-improving hearing aid technology. Bluetooth and various settings mean I can better tune my aids to my changing lifestyle and hearing needs, while specially designed moulds will help to prevent any additional sound loss from the device.

I accept that my progressive hearing loss cannot be fixed by technology, but it is heart-warming to know that technology is progressing enough to make living with hearing loss easier. 

Asian family talking

2) Talking to friends and family 

The next thing I did was to reach out to friends and family. I decided to share my audiograms to visualise the true extent of my hearing loss and how it compares with theirs. I felt it was important for me to be completely open and honest with them, and to make them aware of what my progressive hearing loss looks like, and how much I need their support. 

This has been a huge step as my hearing loss is not something I talk very openly about. Even those closest to me tend to forget I have it as I strive so hard to keep up with a level of ‘normal’ and act like it doesn’t bother me or isn’t a big deal – often to the detriment of my energy levels and wellbeing. I think, in part, this is why I was so shocked to learn my hearing loss is severe – because I tend to disregard it and pretend it’s not too bad. But it is. It’s bad, and nothing close to normal. And I need the support from others to manage day to day. 

3) Realising it’s OK to be vulnerable 

The aftermath of my hearing test was emotional, and several weeks later it continues to weigh on my mind. I’ve spent a lot of time analysing the role my hearing loss plays in my life, and how it could become a bigger challenge for me in the future – affecting my career, my social life, my relationships, my mental health and any milestone that I wish to achieve. While doing research and talking about it has helped, so too has relinquishing the fear of being vulnerable. 

I am incredibly independent and pride myself on being driven, happy and successful in spite of my hearing loss. However, I think a lot of this also comes down to my absolute fear of feeling, and being perceived as, vulnerable, less worthy or able. But these past few weeks have made me realise that it’s OK to feel this way. While I will never fully accept my deafness, I think I can accept to be more open about how it makes me feel, and how it impacts my life. After all, if I need support from others I need to be able to ask for it. 

Read more of Tamara’s articles: 

This article was written by Tamara who works in digital marketing and has a passion for reading, volunteering, eating copious amounts of chocolate, and sharks. She has blogged about her hearing loss and journey to acceptance for the Huffington Post Lifestyle, and is a regular contributor to Deaf Unity:

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