Communication is one of the most important parts of our lives. We use it every day— in our careers, education, relationships, and hobbies. But what happens when hearing loss begins to impact how we communicate? How do we adjust?
Meet Rosemary, a spirited Cochlear™ Nucleus® 6 recipient with plenty of experience adapting to the challenges of hearing loss. She is proof that nothing will stand in your way if you’re determined to succeed.
A SLOW DECLINE IN SOUND
Rosemary began to lose her hearing when she was in her late 30’s. Doctors had plenty of theories as to why she was experiencing hearing loss: it might have stemmed from a car accident that broke her neck, it could have been Meniere’s disease, there was a possibility it was genetic early-onset hearing loss.
Unfortunately, there was plenty of guesswork but no cures or answers, so she did the only thing she could: she adapted.
“It wasn’t really bad at first,” Rosemary said. “It was there, it was occasionally a problem, but it didn’t stop me from anything.”
She said it was a gradual shift, but over time her hearing loss made everyday tasks more difficult.
By her mid-40’s she was using an amplified telephone handset, and as the years went on, communication become more of a challenge. She could only watch TV with closed captioning, and she was no longer able to attend movies, plays, or musicals. Conversations became a struggle of getting people to speak to her directly.
Rosemary said she knew it was the final straw when daily social interaction became physically exhausting.
“When I got into my fifties it became more of a problem, simply because being in a crowd was starting to be an issue,” she said. “That’s how you know you’re in trouble: when you’re in a crowd and it’s wearing you out because you’re struggling.”
Her hearing loss continued to worsen dramatically, and in 2003 Rosemary’s doctor convinced her to make the transition from hearing aids to a cochlear implant. She had the surgery in February 2004 and received her processor 3-4 weeks later.
Rosemary said she had to adjust her lifestyle to accommodate the new experience of sound that came with her cochlear implant.
“Like everybody else, I had to once again get used to a lot of sound,” she said. “My colleagues at work said that every day for three months I told somebody, ‘You people live in a noisy world.’ … But I was able to work for three more years, and I don’t think I would have been able to without the implant.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
When she did retire in 2007, her break was brief, to say the least: she retired on a Wednesday and started college classes the following Monday.
“I felt that not getting my bachelor’s was one of life’s loose ends,” Rosemary said.
She had taken classes everywhere she lived, but she had yet to graduate with a degree. Rosemary enrolled in an adult accelerated program at Ottawa University in Kansas, where she graduated magna cum laude with her bachelor’s in psychology and human behavior.
Then, with encouragement from a professor, she transitioned immediately into an Ottawa master’s degree program studying human resources, where she graduated with a 4.0 GPA.
Rosemary credits much of her academic journey to her newfound ability to communicate in the classroom.
“My cochlear implant is what allowed me to go,” she said. “Even with the receiver and transmitter my instructors used, if I hadn’t had the cochlear implant, I don’t think I could have done it.”
DISPELLING THE MYTHS ABOUT HEARING LOSS
Based on her personal experience interacting with people who have faulty or completely incorrect ideas about hearing loss, Rosemary felt that it was important to communicate with hearing audiences about what it’s like to have hearing loss—and to disprove many of the common myths.
“The hearing world thinks if they shout, somehow it’ll get better,” she said. “Or that once you get a hearing aid, you ‘get’ your hearing back. … (But) shouting doesn’t work, and you’re never going to get your real hearing back.”
In order to disprove those false ideas, Rosemary began training businesses, federal institutions, nursing homes and church groups on the realities of hearing loss. She started the training about a decade ago and still gives presentations whenever she has the chance. Her goal is to communicate the reality of hearing loss to a hearing audience.
The presentation is highly interactive. Rosemary begins by simulating what it’s like to experience hearing loss: she has audience members close their eyes and she speaks to them while blending the consonants, so the speech is audible but not understandable.
Then she goes through each of the stages of hearing loss from a practical perspective. Instead of offering medical information, she focuses on the realities that those with hearing loss experience every day.
The last step she teaches the group is where they can go from there, and what options are available for those with hearing loss. Rosemary explains how there is a wide array of assistive device options available and lets the participants check out a table full of examples. She uses her own experience with assistive devices, hearing aids, and cochlear implants to offer a firsthand perspective.
Rosemary said the most rewarding part of her work is knowing it makes a difference in the communication between hearing and hard of hearing individuals.
“One lady said, ‘Thank you very much, for the first time I know how to talk to my father,’” she recalled. “I got through to somebody! Boy, is that happy for me. In those classes my audience is the hearing world, to get them to understand the truth about (hearing loss).”
ADVICE FOR THOSE WITH HEARING LOSS
Rosemary said she is grateful that her Cochlear Nucleus 6 has allowed her to pursue opportunities she otherwise may have missed.
“I was always a communicator, always had a job where I communicated—that’s what I did, that’s who I am,” she said. “(My Cochlear implant) allowed me to go on with my life, to go back to school, and to stay and work as long as I did.”
However, she does caution those with hearing loss to understand what they can reasonably expect from the technology.
“I absolutely think it’s the best thing to do, but realistically, is this my real hearing? No,” Rosemary said.
She still encounters trouble with listening in large crowds, and she still has to tell people to speak directly to her so she can understand the sound of their voice. But she said that the cochlear implant is still a big improvement.
“Some days it’s been a struggle,” she said. “But overall I still get to communicate. I know what it was like to have hearing, I know what it’s like not to have it. Hearing’s a heck of a lot better.”
Rosemary said her hearing loss has never stopped her from accomplishing her goals.
“The idea that hearing impairment means you have to go home, sit still, read a book— I don’t go along with that,” she laughed. “I’m not very good about going home and doing nothing, either.”