TONI NAERA is what you would call Te Awamutu to the core.
So, when she was recently reappointed as a Life Unlimited (now known as Your Way | Kia Roha) hearing therapist, one of the first places she immediately thought she could make a difference was in her own hometown.
Toni was born in Te Awamutu, and attended Pekerau Primary, Te Awamutu Intermediate and Te Awamutu College. She still lives in the town, is married to Tony, and is mother to four children Renee, Daniel, Hannah and Rico. Toni is also a grandmother to seven, ranging in age from three months to 12 years old.
She has worked in the health and disability sector since the 1990s in such jobs as the deinstitutionalisation of Tokanui Hospital in 1995 and then with Community Residential Services.
She joined Your Way | Kia Roha in 2003 as a trainee hearing therapist, one of only a few Maori therapists at the time. For eight years, until a couple of months ago, she worked in other areas of Life Unlimited Charitable Trust (now known as Your Way | Kia Roha).
The pull of being involved in hearing therapy was like a magnet to her.
“I have always been a people person and I really enjoy using all the skills learned to take a holistic approach when assisting individuals or family/whanau living with hearing loss to gain more skills,” said Toni.
“For example, many people invest in hearing aids, struggle with them, put them in the drawer and go without. It’s an error – not least because they miss out, but also because when they do pull them out of the draw it’s possible their hearing will have worsened, so the aids won’t be doing the best job.
“With hearing aids, the brain has to be retrained to understand what noises are important and what are not. It can take time. If the hearing aids have been left unused for two or three years, we must start from scratch – but it doesn’t necessarily mean new hearing aids,” says Toni.
Your Way | Kia Roha Hearing Therapy run free hearing aid management skills programmes and are willing to come and meet groups of people to talk about finding ways to overcome hearing issues or even identifying if there is a problem.
“Many people with hearing loss are oblivious to it.
“There are common indicators – being told the television is far too loud is a primary one.”
Toni makes use of a device to amplify sound for clients and many are shocked at what they are missing out on.
“As a hearing therapist, it is all about offering support to the client and family and educating on the needs of the client to be able to communicate more effectively.
“Many go through life unaware of what they are missing out on – but for others with more severe hearing loss the inability to join in conversations can be isolating and depressing.”
An estimated 880,000 New Zealanders – one in six people – have a hearing loss including about 300,000 people in the working age group of 20 to 65. New research underlines the importance of having hearing checks as they show a correlation between dementia and hearing loss.
The service provided by
Your Way | Kia Roha, and funded by the Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People, is independent and includes free hearing assessments, information, hearing screening and support for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents aged 16 years and over. The service does not involve selling hearing aids.
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear, can be aggravated by stress, caffeine and alcohol.
“Hearing loss can lead to communication breakdown and result in frustration and isolation,” Toni said. “I work with people to reduce that impact, so they can live well with hearing loss.”
That support includes providing information on effective communication strategies and listening devices. Amplified telephones, smoke alarms, television management and personal listening devices could provide additional tools to – or be a possible alternative for – hearing aids for some people.
Your Way | Kia Roha hearing therapists also advise on funding criteria and are credentialed assessors on behalf of the Ministry of Health for hearing assistive technology systems, devices that help people with hearing difficulties to communicate with others.
Toni also helps clients with lip reading and will even talk to their work colleagues to help them understand the impact of hearing loss.
Her region covers the Waikato District Health Board area and the free service extends to having Toni speak to community groups. She can be reached via the Your Way | Kia Roha freephone number, 0800 008 011.