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Looking through the eyes of love: Hearing loss from a caregiver’s perspective


Preetam Roy works at a Bengaluru based IT company. Ever since the pandemic, Preetam has been working from home. So, Preetam’s family shifted back to their hometown to live with his parents. Preetam’s parents were extremely pleased to finally have their son’s family back home. His mother cooked delicious food and fed them well. She was particularly happy that she could finally spend some time with her grandson Prateek and tell him wonderful stories she had heard as a kid. Prateek spent a lot of time listening to his grandmother’s stories and playing carrom with his grandfather.

As the pandemic worsened, all activities and communication were shifted to digital mode. Preetam had to attend meetings from home every day. Prateek had to attend his school through his laptop. Preetam’s parents were bored again and turned towards watching the TV. Everyone was following the news closely. Doordarshan played re-runs of Ramayan and Mahabharat. Preetam’s mother, and wife watched them religiously with nostalgia. New mega serials were discovered to kill the boredom. As days progressed to months, friends and family connected through skype. They all played antakshari on their WhatsApp groups through voice messages. Preetam’s father turned to his books and reconnected with his love for music by playing the Sitar. Preetam’s mother sang every evening and taught music to her grandson too. Everything seemed beautiful and calm for a while, until it wasn’t!


One fine morning, Preetam had an important meeting. His mother was cooking in the kitchen when his father decided to listen to some music. Preetam could follow nothing in the meeting that day. He came to the living room and shouted at his father for playing the music so loud. Another night, Prateek was preparing for his monthly test when Preetam’s mother was watching one of her mega serials with utter interest. Prateek could concentrate on nothing because of the TV noise. The old couple tried to be considerate and reduced the volumes down eventually. At least, they thought they did. But, Preetam and Prateek had different opinions altogether.

Months became years, and shouting at each other became a common thing in the Roy household. The lockdown had been lifted and everyone walked around wearing masks. Preetam’s parents resumed daily social interactions by going for walks, attending local society meetings and hosting small get togethers at home. They kept complaining about how everyone sounded so muffled now that masks were compulsory. Preetam’s father eventually started avoiding masks, saying he can’t hear that clearly with a mask on. Arguments and misunderstandings increased with every passing day. Communication became difficult because shouting over the sound of really loud TV required too much effort. Conversations became sparse. Prateek locked himself up in his room and his grades fell. When he was asked for an explanation, Prateek said, “all I can hear is TV and some old Ghazals. If they asked questions on granny’s mega serials or Jagjit Ji’s ghazals, I’d get a 100! I can concentrate on nothing other than that.”


That’s when Preetam Roy decided enough is enough. Some action had to be taken about his parents. He asked them why they keep such a high volume. But the old couple refused to accept that.

“Prateek is just always on his phone or laptop. That is why his scores are low. We don’t even watch that much TV, and we always listen at a lower volume!” they said.


“TV volume is so high; I literally have to shout to be heard. Sometimes, I say something and you hear something else. Maybe you should get your hearing checked!” Preetam shouted.


His parents got very angry hearing that and told him that nothing was wrong with their hearing, just that he wasn’t talking clearly.


Several months later, Preetam saw a flyer that said FREE HEARING SCREENING CAMP FOR SENIOR CITIZENS. He took his parents to the camp and had their hearing tested. It was no surprise to hear that both his parents had hearing loss and needed amplification to hear better. When they came home, Preetam suggested to his parents that they better get a hearing aid, to which his mother replied, “well, why would we want to spend so much money on hearing aids? We could die any day now! So what if there is some hearing loss? We can hear you all just fine.”


“You can hear me just fine because I am shouting, mamma!” said Preetam. “I am tired of listening to your mega serials! Jagjit ji’s voice seems more like a hammer to me for the volume papa keeps! My meetings are ruined by your noise. You don’t understand the problem because we are all adjusting to you. But we can’t keep doing this! We need to live peacefully too. Besides, what will you two do once we shift back to Bangalore? You can’t even hear your phone ringing at times. It’s a safety concern too now!”


“It is good if I don’t hear, beta! I was getting tired of your mother’s voice and her constant nagging anyway” said the father jokingly.


“You guys are just impossible! If your grandson fails his exams this time, it is on you two!” Preetam said and stormed out of the room.


There is probably one such family as the Roys in every street now! One in three people have a hearing loss above the age of 65 years. Preetam was not only concerned about his son’s grades, but also about his parents’ overall health and quality of life. Hearing loss was affecting them and the people around them so much! He had been told that hearing loss could accelerate neural degeneration and could put his parents at a higher risk of cognitive problems such as dementia, or even Alzheimer's Disease!


Convincing older people to take care of their hearing health is extremely hard. People become more and more stubborn with age. They do not realize their hearing difficulties unless pointed out. Their hearing degenerates slowly over the years and often goes unnoticed. However, the people living around them pay a hefty price for their stubbornness.



Ever since masks have been made compulsory, more people have begun to identify that they have some trouble hearing. This is because the cues they could get from lip-reading have been stripped away from them now. They have to rely solely on their hearing to listen to others. In general, we all use some visual cues like lip movements and body language to understand the other person when there is a lot of background noise. However, having a hearing loss only makes it harder to understand speech in the presence of background noise.


So, ever since the rise of covid, more and more people are getting themselves tested for hearing loss. But how many of them are taking some action? Knowing that a problem exists only takes us so far. What really matters is how we are addressing the detected problem!


More often than not, it is the sons and daughters of these older individuals who get their parents’ hearing tested and have them wear a hearing aid. It is the caretakers and neighbors of these older adults who convince them to wear hearing aids and maintain their hearing health because they suffer the effects of hearing loss more than the person having a hearing loss.


But, as the old saying goes, “all's well that ends well” right? As long as everyone’s hearing health is maintained, and as long as we ensure that nobody’s hearing loss goes undetected and untreated, we win!


Some signs to look out for:

  1. Keeping the TV volume too high

  2. Asking for repetitions

  3. Complaining that the speaker is speaking too fast or too soft

  4. Difficulty understanding speech over the phone

  5. Mistaking one word for another

  6. Loss of memory

Therefore, if you or anyone you know has trouble hearing, or shows above mentioned signs of hearing loss, visit an audiologist near you and have your hearing checked ASAP! If you or anyone you know is above the age of 60 years, get a hearing test done annually by a qualified audiologist, and follow their suggestions to maintain your hearing health!


Healthy hearing ensures a healthy life :)


 


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