17 August 2020 – Hearing impaired Gisborne woman Karen Gomm has broken free of silent isolation and learned how to manage her deafness after help from a Life Unlimited hearing therapist.
“The hearing therapist taught me how to take more control of this disability. From the minute I met her I realised she understood what I needed,” says Karen.
In January 2018 Karen, 72, suffered a medical event and overnight the active mother of three and grandmother of seven, found it harder to walk and lost hearing in her left ear.
At the time, Karen says she was thankful she wasn’t left with more disabilities than she already had. A few weeks afterwards she regained her balance and could manage without a walking frame, but the deafness remained. She didn’t think it was going to pose a long-term challenge, that she was in fact one of the lucky ones. As a result, she was hesitant to seek help for her hearing impairment.
“I was very thankful nothing else had happened back then, so I didn’t take time to appreciate what a terrible disability the loss of hearing would be. I just didn’t realise.”
Karen started feeling isolated at family events and no longer enjoyed going places where there were more than one or two people.
“At family gatherings everyone talks at once and it felt like I was always on the edge of the circle rather than being in the group. I would hear on my good side, but I could miss so much on my left side.”
Around this time Karen was referred by her general practitioner to Life Unlimited for help with tinnitus, which is the medical term for noise heard in the head or ears that does not come from an outside source.
Life Unlimited hearing therapist Cheryl Scott gave Karen communication strategies for coping in the world when you’re hearing impaired. Karen learned where to sit in cafés and restaurants to reduce background noise. She learned phrases for use with people she’s just met letting them know she’s hearing impaired and how they can help the conversation flow.
“When you go to a café, sit against the wall and sit away from people that are lining up. If you go to a gathering, choose one person to talk to and make sure they are on your hearing side. You will come away from the gathering thinking you have achieved something,” says Karen.
While working together Cheryl discovered Karen’s acute hearing loss . Life Unlimited does not sell or fit hearing aids and its advice is independent. So, Karen went to a hearing clinic for an assessment and hearing aid fitting. The $3000 cost for hearing aids worried her. If she didn’t like using them it could all turn out to be a terrible waste of money, she thought.
Cheryl was there to help manage Karen’s expectations. “Cheryl encouraged me to try them and said she would be there to support me. She said ‘these aids are not staying in the top drawer!’”
“She told me ‘I will work with you until the hearing aids are comfortable’ and gave me so many little hints along the way.”
Using Bluetooth technology, the hearing aids pick up sounds spoken into Karen’s left ear and “throw” them to her right ear.
Karen says they make life much easier. “I could hear water running. The hob clicking as I lit it. Hearing the birds was the most wonderful thing.”
Karen says “if I hadn’t met Cheryl, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to try the hearing aids. Here was this lady who knew exactly what I was talking about, what I was having trouble with. I just knew I could rely on her.”
Karen encourages anyone else in the same situation to seek help from Life Unlimited’s hearing therapy service.
“Cheryl will be there for you with patience and understanding.”