Social distancing is very much in the news. Professor David Baguley, Professor of Hearing Sciences, and Adele Horobin, Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Manager, both members of our Hearing Theme, reflect on the double challenge this creates for people with hearing difficulties.
The change to our daily routines that the Coronavirus lockdown has brought brings its own unique challenges. Whether you are introverted or love a party, working from home or out keeping the nation fed, secure and cared for, living on your own or with family, retired or concerned about your job or business, healthy or ill, everyone will have their own perspectives.
Now imagine the variety of challenges that people face and overlay that with hearing loss or tinnitus – ‘invisible’ conditions that can impact on a person’s emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
Hearing loss is extremely common, affecting one in six of us in the UK. Hearing loss can feel isolating at the best of times, as it makes communication more difficult, but enforced separation from family and friends can add to these feelings.
While it may be tempting to simply dispense with using your hearing aids if you are alone and self-isolating (or indeed, to offer relief from being stuck with noisy family members!), it is important to keep your brain used to listening through your aids.
Hearing aids will still help with listening to the TV and radio or in connecting with others in the virtual world, using platforms such as WhatsApp, Facetime or Zoom.
NHS hearing services are also working hard to make sure that hearing aid repairs and battery supply are continuing, and cochlear implant services are doing the same. For online self-help resources, the award-winning C2Hear is definitely worth a try. Developed here in Nottingham by Dr Melanie Ferguson, it provides excellent video-based advice on maintaining your hearing aids and getting the most out of them. Check out: https://c2hearonline.com/
For people who have family members or friends with hearing loss, please do think about how you can best help. If communicating with them virtually, consider that sound quality through a computer or tablet speakers could be poor and video images may be slightly out of sync with the audio. Extra patience and care to speak clearly (not shouting) and slowly might be of great help, as well as clearly signalling when you are changing subject.
If you are sharing a house with a family member with hearing loss, bear in mind that loud noises can be uncomfortable when heard through hearing aids. And research shows that people with hearing loss can feel isolated and lonely even when amongst family. Try to have one-to-one conversations each day. Speak to them in the same room so they can see you speak. Make sure the person knows the topic of the conversation. Avoid answering a ‘pardon?’ with ‘it doesn’t matter’.
When you are out and about, bear in mind that if you speak to someone from a distance (at least two metres of course!), they may find it difficult to tell what you are saying if they have a hearing loss. Be prepared to repeat yourself slowly and animate with visual cues or just accept that a nod and friendly wave may be their way to avoid an awkward moment.
Many people also have tinnitus, including people with hearing loss. Tinnitus is sound that is perceived internally and does not come from any outside source. It could be sensed as ringing, buzzing, hissing, whooshing, whining or sometimes even musical noises. Tinnitus can be worsened by stress and anxiety, feelings which we can probably all relate to during these unsettling times. Techniques such as relaxation, mindfulness, and the use of quiet calming sound can be invaluable, and the British Tinnitus Association have produced some excellent resources, useful both for people who are new to tinnitus, and those who have lived with it for a long time. https://www.tinnitus.org.uk/covid-19-guidance-for-people-with-tinnitus There are also a number of self-help tinnitus apps you might want to explore too.
During these testing times, it’s worth taking a pause to reflect on how we are each facing our own unique challenges. Patience and a bit of extra care will help us all through the next few weeks and months.