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Sound Off on Hearing Loss

July 31, 2015

An opulent wedding reception at Chicago's Navy Pier Crystal Garden–a faulty sound system. The bridal party and family members lift glasses and recite stories and toasts–and our table does not hear a word. "So this is what it's like." I thought. I did not feel part of the celebration, did not hear the carefully chosen words that bring family and friends together. A lesson learned anew of how it feels to have hearing loss.

For many, not hearing in a group or public setting is the norm. It detracts from the experience of any social setting and in time hearing loss keeps us at home where the awkwardness of the missed punchline, or the loss of the whispered comment are not felt. Yet we need each other, no matter how much solitude we enjoy.

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) the average amount of time from when a person thinks that they might have hearing loss to the time they do something about it is seven years! In the meantime, untreated hearing loss is often mistaken for something else– dementia, arrogance, ignorance, substance abuse. Please notice I said “untreated hearing loss,” because hearing loss is invisible. It often the last condition to be suspected when someone does not appear to “get” what is being said. In a culture that celebrates youth and associates hearing loss with (heaven forbid) aging, many are reluctant to wearing a hearing aid for fear it makes them look older. Yet most would agree with a popular sentiment that “your hearing loss is more noticeable than your hearing aid.”

The North Shore Senior Center has recognized the importance of hearing and the vital role it plays in living life fully. For more than 30 years, it has offered support for those of us in the community who have hearing loss and want to do something about it. Every Monday people gather to address hearing concerns. On the second Monday of each month (except August) HLAA brings in a speaker; research, technology, T-coils, hearing induction loops, people's stories of managing hearing loss, and more. All other Monday's, we gather at the Center for a 10 a.m. Speech Reading session followed by our 11 a.m. hearing loss support group Sound-Off.

If you are experiencing hearing loss, the loss is real. It is something you can learn about and manage, and to talk with others who are navigating the same waters may be informative and comforting. There is a lot to know. Take the theater for instance. As you know, Chicago has a vibrant robust theater community. A number of theaters are determined to be accessible to those of us with hearing loss. The Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire has installed a hearing induction loop. This device brings sound directly to the ears of those who wear hearing aids with T-coils. There is no extra equipment, no headphones, no special seating. Our Sound-Off group has the ability to share information like this, that you won’t find anywhere else.

The Linden Lounge, where we get together on Mondays has a hearing induction loop. This is thanks to the generosity of the North Shore Chapter of HLAA that paid for the installation and sound system. The local chapter also has a president, Liz Hupp, who is a technology whiz, and exceptional in her knowledge of hearing loss and how to manage it. If you or someone you care about has questions about hearing loss, don’t be a stranger. We’re all in this together. Please contact Ana Pinshower at 847.784.6079 or apinshower@nssc.org for more information on any of the Hearing Loss groups.