Hearing management

Updated 13 February 2015

Hearing the voice of love

A strong Valentine’s message we find everywhere is that we should tell people when we love them. But what if they can’t hear you?

A strong Valentine’s message we find everywhere is that we should tell people when we love them. But what if they can’t hear you?

Read the following true story about a couple who struggled to hear each other. Please bear in mind that hearing loss is not only an age-related ailment.

Dolores and Julius Black, who have been married for almost 30 years, have struggled to communicate for the past 5 years.

Hearing – an original Valentine’s gift
Dolores recently insisted that as a Valentine’s Day gift to Julius, she wanted him to visit an audiologist for an assessment and some hearing assistance. They saw an audiologist in Cape Town, hoping to make this year’s Valentine’s Day better than the last.

Julius, struggles to hear Dolores. He can hear that she is speaking, but is unable to hear what she is saying, as she also has a very soft voice. This means they have missed out on all of the 'sweet nothings' that they should have been able to say – not only on Valentine’s Day, but every other day of the year.

Julius has hearing loss in both ears, which affects his ability to hear when there is background noise. This typically causes problems at occasions such as lunch dates, or when someone is speaking from another room.

Julius was a great sportsman and he still swims every day. He used to play heaps of cricket and bowls, and still enjoys following our sporting greats on the television, but cannot properly hear the commentary that he wishes to follow. Julius still consults as a chartered accountant, and needs to hear requests from his clients, and also conduct the occasional meeting.

Dolores also hard of hearing
Dolores says that their problem is complicated by the fact that she had a severe ear infection in her left ear many years ago, resulting in the complete loss of hearing on her left side.

This, coupled with a partial hearing loss on her right ear, had left her without enough hearing to hear Julius properly, and also resulted in her not hearing her own voice clearly. As a result of this, until recently her voice was too soft for Julius to hear. She now wears an in-the-ear hearing aid on her right ear, which has helped her a lot, and she wears it every day.

She mentioned that although Julius had been fitted with a hearing aid several years ago, the older hearing aid does not warn Julius that the battery is flat, as hers does, and he sometimes struggles along for ages without hearing well.

The older hearing aid is an analogue hearing aid, and so Julius also spends a fair amount of time adjusting the volume control in order to manage to hear soft sounds, but keep louder sounds at a comfortable level. She says that he is unable to take part in conversation where there is any level of background noise, and this has had a negative effect on their social lives.

Tests show the way forward
Testing on Julius revealed equal hearing losses on both sides. Dolores said that they were originally intending to replace the older hearing aid with a new one, and Julius thought that he would wear only one, the left-ear hearing aid, as usual.

However, their audiologist explained the cause and extent of Julius’ hearing losses in both ears. She also explained how the brain works in assessing the direction of incoming sound, and also in suppressing background noise and enhancing speech in background noise, when both ears are fed with adequate sound. Once they had a true understanding of the hearing pathway, it became clear that Julius would need to add a hearing aid to the right ear, rather than simply replace the left.

The final choice
They were presented with a variety of options, and selected a Bravissimo directional hearing aid for the right ear, from Widex South Africa. This hearing aid sounded as though it offered specific solutions for the problems that they were experiencing.

Not only would Julius now benefit from the improved effects of binaural hearing, but the hearing aid, being a digital, three-channel hearing aid, would distinguish between the amount of added volume required for Julius’ low, middle and high pitch hearing. This would make the fitting more accurate, and keep sound both more audible and more comfortable.

The programming of the hearing aid, to be done over approximately a one-month adjustment period, would also ensure that sound would be loud enough to be audible, but not so loud as to be uncomfortable. The directional function would mean that the hearing aid would know in which direction Julius was looking, which would improve his ability to hear speech when there is background noise. Finally, the hearing aid has a ‘low battery’ signal that will alert him to the fact that he needs to change his batteries, and therefore enable him to hear more consistently.

Julius and Dolores intend to upgrade the left ear, for next Valentine’s Day!

Read more:

 Symptoms of hearing loss

Treating hearing loss

Types of hearing loss


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Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

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