Don't get by with hearing loss, take charge
MARIA Murray has "found her voice" since receiving a cochlear implant.
Research shows an incredible 47 per cent of adults in the Gosford area have hearing loss, and Maria is getting behind a new public health campaign encouraging people to have their hearing professionally tested.
"It has enabled me," Maria said, of her treatment.
"I feel like my brain's on fire - it's alive, it's awoken.
"I can follow conversations, know exactly what's going on and my brain can formulate answers while people are still talking."
Maria, now 62, began losing her hearing in her 30s, and it continued to deteriorate.
Even with hearing aids, she gradually found difficulties in her career as a teacher, retraining first to become a librarian and 10 years ago, a podiatrist.
Three years ago, she took the next step to a cochlear implant in one ear and has never looked back.
"It's empowering - I have as many meaningful conversations now as the number of people I see," she said.
Previously, she had learned to "get by" in social situations by smiling and not saying a lot.
She had become "pretty gifted in reading the situation - the cues, the social interactions, people's faces ..." but it only took missing one or two words to lose track of the whole conversation.
She said she, as much as others, tired of having to ask people to repeat themselves.
Some simplified what they said thinking she had cognitive difficulty, and "the biggest put down of all was when people said 'don't worry about it'".
"It means they've given up; you're not worth their energy," she said.
Now she is encouraging people to "take charge of their disability".
"It's up to me to make my hearing the best it can possibly be," she said.
Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) CEO Chris Rehn said hearing loss does compromise your life, with people withdrawing from social situations and even family.
And you don't have to put up with it, with hearing problems today easily diagnosed and treated.
The best place to start is a conversation with your GP, he said, and referral to a qualified audiologist, rather than just a kiosk screening.
He would love to see hearing loss automatically tested in over-65s as it is in children when they are first born so that problems can be quickly identified and action taken.
"Left untreated, it can become difficult for people to have normal conversations and can impact their ability to connect, stay healthy and be productive, particularly as they get older," he said.
This leads to loneliness, loss of confidence, reduced performance, stress and anxiety.
Chris said there was evidence that more than 50 per cent of people with serious hearing loss waited three years or more before having a hearing test, and more than 33% waited over a decade.
Many dismissed the issue, saying "it's not too bad" or associated it negatively with ageing.
The Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre and RIDBC (which is actually an all-of-life service) have launched a six-month public health awareness campaign in Gosford, Port Stephens and Newcastle to raise awareness of the positive steps people can take.
It includes educational events, online information and resources, and it is hoped local community centres, clubs and RSLs will join the campaign.
Maria urged people not to dismiss hearing problem or themselves with throwaway lines like "I'm deaf as a post", which don't tell people how they can help you.
"Now I tell people to speak clearly and slowly and look at me," she said.
But most importantly, have your hearing checked regularly and take action because, as for her, it can be life-changing.
Phone your GP or go to cochlearhelp.com to learn more.