March is Hearing Awareness Month!
Are you aware that:
- Over 880,000 Kiwis are Deaf or hard of hearing.
- Over 300,000 working Kiwis (11% of all employees!) have measurable hearing loss.
- About 20% of NZ Year 9 students have measurable hearing loss! These numbers are from the 2019 NZ Hearing Screening, which found that affected students listened to headphones at unsafe volumes for an average of 5-7 hours per day (prolonged exposure at high volume).
In other words; hearing loss is a big issue in the workplace and the problem is growing. All those Year 9 students will enter the workforce eventually! Hearing loss among employees is expected to double over the next 3 decades, worldwide [ref. World Health Organization].
Hearing loss is the second most common disability, after mental health. In fact, hearing loss is often coupled with mental health issues. The National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing tells us that many people with hearing issues experience increased fatigue, frustration, and isolation. This can lead to depression or feelings of hopelessness.
"Blindness cuts us off from things, deafness cuts us off from people" - Helen Keller
For the record, people in the Deaf community prefer not to speak about "hearing loss" but rather "gaining Deafness" - i.e. gaining a new perspective as well as membership in a community that is increasingly finding its own voice...
Here's some more factoids:
- Our society associates glasses with being smart, but if you wear hearing aids then that means you're old (why is that?)
- Approximately 2/3 of employees with measurable hearing loss in both ears don't wear hearing aids. That includes me!
My hearing journey
I have tinnitus (ringing in my ears) and occasionally I hear a sort of erratic ticking in my left ear. I've always struggled to understand song lyrics, I watch TV with the captions on, and sometimes I have to ask people to repeat themselves several times in a row. My dad wore hearing aids and I always figured I would need them eventually. I feel my hearing is mostly functional, but increasingly it takes extra effort to understand what people are saying.
More recently, it began to sound to me like everyone around me is speaking with a slight lisp. Could there be an epidemic of speech dysfunction going through my neighbourhood? Statistically it seemed more likely that the issue was in my own hearing, so I went for a hearing test.
It turns out I've got high frequency hearing loss, a bit like this...
[Depicted: An audiogram (graph of hearing results) with a red curve that varies from "good hearing" at low frequencies, to "moderately severe issues" at high frequencies. This reduction in hearing ability cuts out the sound of birds tweeting and leaves rustling, but also the sounds 'f', 'th', 's', and 'k' of conversational speech.]
That's most likely why it sounded to me like everyone else had a speech defect, I'm missing the top end of the "speech banana": the range of frequencies commonly associated with conversational speech. Well dang, maybe it's finally time for me to get hearing aids. I found a hearing clinic that's offering big discounts during Hearing Awareness Month, and my fitting is scheduled for next week. Exciting times!
Get yourself tested
One thing we can all do is take a free online hearing test. There's several of these available online, and they can give you an indication of whether it's worth going to an audiologist for a professional hearing assessment. It can cost around $80 to$100 for a professional diagnostic hearing assessment, but you can sometimes get it done for free (because they're in the business of selling hearing aids!) I also found it helpful to read an independent report by Consumer.org.nz, which summarizes all the funding options available and details about who owns the various hearing clinics in New Zealand (and therefore who's trying to sell you those hearing aids).
Free online hearing test:
Independent consumer guide to hearing clinics: