Getting used to poor hearing and poor seeing is not as straightforward as might be imagined. As in many human new situations, time is needed to get used to the new. The reality of the new is not what one might expect. Hearing less is not just a matter of amplifying sounds, spending time with the hearing specialist and seeing less is not just a matter of magnifying what is there to be seen. So when facing significant hearing or sight loss, most of us seem to go through various stages of acceptance and getting on with things or rejection and even head in the sand behaviours.
Stage one involves gradually beginning to realise there is a problem but not yet being ready to confront it and have it investigated and hopefully sorted. In my own case I have long being partly blind but when deafness became a reality I was very slow to seek help and lived in a state of embarrassment and avoiding situations where it mattered.
Stage two is about seeing experts and getting advice and often receiving a hearing aid or one or two solutions to compensate for the sight loss. Here we are most vulnerable to the sales pitch. A bright image with large letters on a screen can seem like the magic cure we yearned for. The tiny aid in the ear seems to make the audiologist@ voice in the clinic so clear and just like the old days.
Stage three is back at home or work where things are by no means so straightforward. It used to be so easy to see and hear and was just taken for granted. Now the whole business is very tiring, requiring massive concentration and making it hard to keep the mind on the job. The brain is so wonderful at sorting and balancing sounds but the hearing aid is an absolute pain in the bum in a noisy environment where lots of people are speaking. It gets worse because what we were used to as familiar sounds now sound different and its all out of proportion. Not surprisingly, many far too soon leave the hearing aid in the draw and continue to be a new sense to partners and are viewed sometimes as uncooperative or set in their ways. There is a similar story with sight loss and proscribed solutions. The days of glancing at anything are gone and it’s a question of concentrating on things to be seen. Reading a age now becomes seeing a few letters at a time and patiently building up the word, the sentence and the page at a high mental cost. Over the years, I struggled with flickering magnification on a screen until, to avoid my head busting at work, I resolved to move to speaking systems so I could sit back, listen and learn.
If you want to stay sane, the trick is to not give up in stage three and guide yourself to glide into stage four. Far easier said than done and many of us take years or possibly never get there.
So what is stage four? There is no easy definition because it represents differing behaviours and experiences for each of us as individuals. In a sense stage four is a kind of acceptance of the new situation, a realisation that the old stuff has gone and that, with a smile and a good humour, the new way has a future. It shows itself in a ready willingness to tell people you did not hear or you can’t see who they are and all without embarrassment. Its about suddenly realising after all the struggles that you are actually enjoying a book like you used to but you are reading it more slowly, listening to it or even reading it with your fingers. Its about going out with mates or family and not minding you can’t see all that others see or not hearing all that others hear and perhaps getting the grandchildren to describe something to you.
Of course, acceptance never means giving up. If a new solution, an operation or some technology comes along, give it a go and spend some savings if the risk factor is reasonable. And there is one final thing: Far from being embarrassed, as during stage one, we learn to enjoy the compliments and praise that comes with stage 4. Many people without sight and hearing challenges rightly admire stage four success when they come across it. You can think of stage four as the triumph of ability, against the odds, over disabilities. I am qualified by experience to write about the grief of losing sight and hearing. I grew up with sight loss and my hearing has always been a bit suspect. I can only admire those who suddenly lose their senses significantly in later life and have to make massive adjustments to their lives, emotions and how they come to feel about