10 December 2020 – Roly Ellis developed a hearing loss over time starting when he drove tanks while serving in the British Army.
But it was well into his second term as Tararua District mayor many years later that hearing things in his work environment became more of a challenge. He struggled to hear at meetings, conferences and social events. But the catalyst for change came on Christmas Day three years ago.
“There were 10 or 12 of us around the table, a rectangular table and lots of us were sharing experiences,” says wife Phillipa.
“His responses were so left field that he became the laughing stock of the day. The more he didn’t hear anything, the funnier it was.”
Roly just carried on and dug himself a deeper and deeper hole with his answers.
“Eventually I became frustrated I suppose and I went into my shell for 15-20 minutes. I realised I had to join the party somewhat may. I now realise how hard it is for people when you’re in a situation with a lot of people whether it’s a dinner party, or in the community or at the races. Being inside with a lot of people is extremely difficult. There’s no doubt about it when the weather is right, it’s better outside.”
Two years ago, having attended two hearing workshops in Dannevirke run by Life Unlimited’s Hearing Therapy service, he made an appointment with hearing therapist Anne Greatbatch. She gave Roly and Phillipa some strategies.
“It’s amazing how you can change things and seeing Anne has changed my life through different things, especially the telephone she produced for me which has a blaster on it. I’m hopeless on mobiles.”
Anne says it’s important people like Roly share their experiences.
“He’s aware of what hearing impairment is like because he is living with it but we need to know. All the people out there need to know.”
Phillipa has strategies too. When someone is talking to Roly, she makes sure she doesn’t turn on other noises, like switching the kettle on.
“We tend to have smaller numbers for dinner now and we use a round table.”
They both let others know about Roly’s situation.
“It was hard for us to accept that engaging with others was something we needed to do.
“We make sure people are facing Roly (when they talk) and give him time to respond.
“We look at going to places that are easier for him.
“We went to a restaurant in town and it’s usually noisy and they suggested we went to a room to the side,” says Phillipa, who was grateful for staff’s empathy and understanding.
That’s another thing to be aware of, says Anne.
“Be confident about asking for the quietest table.”
Hearing Therapy is a national service funded by the Ministry of Health and delivered by Life Unlimited Charitable Trust.
The service provides free hearing assessments, information, hearing tests and support to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents aged 16 years and over.
“Our service is independent. We don’t sell or fit hearing aids, but give independent advice about using hearing aids and other listening devices.
“Our aim is to enable hearing impaired individuals to live as independently as possible,” says Anne.
“Our hearing therapists across the country are trained in helping clients with the emotional effects of hearing loss and other associated difficulties with the use of counselling skills and tools and are able to offer practical advice, information and help.”
It’s easy to register for a free appointment online www.hearingtherapy.co.nz or 0800 008 011.
Coping with hearing loss a challenge for former mayor
6 March 2018 – Former Tararua District mayor Roly Ellis talked to Christine McKay from Hawkes Bay Today about how he has been affected by hearing loss, and how a workshop delivered by hearing therapist Anne Greatbatch has helped.
“I would highly encourage and recommend anyone with hearing problems to go to the hearing workshops,” former Tararua District mayor Mr Ellis said.
He said Ms Greatbatch had twice helped him find the right person to solve his hearing problems.
“The first time, some 10 years ago, I was probably a reasonably normal case, although I had lost most of my hearing in one ear while serving in tanks in the British Army. Hearing aids did help, but about three years ago, my hearing became substantially worse.” Mr Ellis had grommets in his good ear for six years, but after continuing infections he realised another term as Tararua District mayor was untenable as he struggled to hear at meetings, conferences and social events.
“Medical problems in both ears continued so much so that hearing aids became a nuisance,” he said.
“If you cannot hear you cannot make proper decisions around the table, and with such a fast moving job as district mayor, it was necessary to hand over the reins.” Mr Ellis said he’d had hearing problems since birth and more recently had found it quite debilitating.
“You cannot have a conversation in crowds or with background noise, and people who do not have this unseen problem find it difficult to understand what you go through,” he said.
“I attended a workshop at the Hub in Dannevirke 10 days ago and was amazed how hearing aids and systems had progressed. Anne [Greatbatch] had already booked me in to the original audiologist and a visit last week has certainly made me realise that with modern technology I can be helped again. I am off for a fitting this week.”
The key message behind hearing awareness week, which runs until March 9, is that it’s never too early to start looking after your hearing. And Ms Greatbatch couldn’t agree more.
“When people experience hearing loss they can feel quite isolated,” she said.
Hearing is quite complex, Ms Greatbatch said, and young farmers – who often worked in noisy environments – did not tend to have hearing checks.
“But if they were in other industries, such as construction, they will have had a hearing check earlier in life,” she said. “That baseline information is very helpful because you will know if there’s a change and people need to be informed.” Ms Greatbatch said anyone can make an appointment to have a free check, even if they do not have an issue yet.
Mr Ellis said he understood the frustration of those around people suffering hearing loss.
“Out there in the rural, contracting and industrial world there are many men driving their wives mad with hearing loss. “There is no shame in being deaf, so do something about it,” he said.