At 87 years old, it is not surprising that Grandma is hard on hearing. I have been persuading her to get a hearing aid for many years but she refused, saying that her hearing was perfectly fine. Unlike losing your sight, where it is obvious when you fail to see clearly (like the bus number in the case of a myopic, or when you cannot focus on small prints and realize you have finally reached middle age and it’s time for reading glasses), hearing loss is more subtle. After all, she really couldn’t miss what she couldn’t hear, or she could turn up that volume of Rediffusion until the music could be shared with the whole HDB block. My aunts complained and refused to call her over the phone, for they couldn’t possibly be shouting in the office, and would rather I passed the message shouting over the telephone at the comfort of my home, seeing that I am already shouting at my kids. What was puzzling was that none encouraged her to get a hearing aid.
This was how bad Grandma’s hearing was. Aunt E telephoned her one weekend and said, ‘Mother, I am visiting you later. Anything for me to buy?’ Grandma replied, ‘Okay, Bye’ and hung up, leaving my Aunt E puzzled and frustrated.
I would be outside when she called my mobile and I would asked if she wanted bread. ‘Date?’ ‘Bread!’ ‘Head?’ ‘BREAD!’ ‘Cake?’ ‘ROTI!’ ‘Which Auntie?’ I gave up and hung up when everyone in the queue at Cedele turned to look at me.
She finally realized her pathetic situation when my Aunt G brought her family, including her son to bid my Grandma farewell before his trip to UK for university. Grandma confessed she couldn’t follow the conversation the family was having with another aunt and didn’t know what was going on. That was when she agreed to go for a hearing test.
I made an appointment at the Hearing Care Centre at Clementi. Before that, the nice lady at the centre who took the appointment had told me the test was free with no obligations to purchase, and that the price ranged from $800 to a few thousands.
Stanley was the consultant for Gran when we visited. He asked Grandma when did she discover her hearing loss and she said when they took away her Rediffusion (last year). I rolled my eyes and said for more than five years at least. He smiled understandably. According to Stanley, many people can be in denial about their hearing loss, unlike the gradual loss of sight. Psychologically, being fitted with glasses makes one intelligent, but being fitted with hearing aids makes one aged.
He also explained why Grandma could hear him better than me. It is usually easier to hear a lower pitch than a higher one, thus she could hear a male’s voice much better than a female’s. I told him that’s no help for Grandma has six daughters.
The hearing test consisted of putting a pair of earphones on and then pressing on a button when a sound is heard. I watched Grandma as she took the test. After a series of trial runs when she was unsure if she should press without prompting, the test ran smoothly. Some of the buzz sounds I could hear but she couldn’t, for she didn’t press the button.
At the end of the test, a graph was shown on the TV screen on the wall. Y-axis denoted the loudness (in decibel) and X-axis the pitch. Normal hearing is at the top, above 20 decibel, and as you move down, the scale gets higher (louder). As you move across, the pitch gets higher. Grandma has a moderate to sever hearing loss (range from 40-below 60) depending on the pitch. (One needs protection above 80 decibel). Her loss was also more severe in the right ear.
Stanley than asked for permission to fit her with their latest ‘top of the range’ hearing aids from Siemens. I would have appreciated a price consultation prior to fitting at this point. Note: hearing aids aren’t like glasses. They cost much much more, plus you have to double the cost if you want a pair.
The little bean-like device (yes, that small) goes behind the ear and a tiny wire with an ear piece is tucked into the ear canal – Quite invisible and lightweight. There is no obstruction even to spectacle frames. The device has a processor which Stanley downloaded Grandma’s tests from a PC. I could see her face lighted up as soon as she wore the device. It took some effort not to shout when I asked her ‘Can you hear? Is it comfortable?’
We took her outside to the buzz of Clementi Central. Stanley asked her if she could hear the vroom of the motorbike as it zoomed past and she replied ‘of course!’ as if it was a stupid question. Stanley than stood behind her on each side and asked her to point to the direction he was at. She passed with flying colours.
As we reentered the centre, I felt there was a lightness in Grandma’s steps. I swear she literally felt younger just by having the noise around her. Stanley then took out the price chart. I told Grandma it cost $1200, like what I had told her before coming to the centre. It’s a bad habit of hers and she started to bargain with Stanley, ‘Don’t charge me so high. I am poor.’ I had to interrupt her, ‘Grandma, this is not the market.’
Grandma would need another consultation in two weeks’. Stanley explained we have to speak slower to her as the part of her brain which had been neglected due to hearing loss needs time to reprocess the sounds . Also, what she is hearing may be different from what she has been used to, as the new sound from the hearing aids is being transmitted electronically. With proper care, hopefully this hearing aid can last 5 years.
When we reached home, I telephoned her to test out repeatedly. I had to force myself to speak slow and soft. (Bee has been complaining that I am always shouting at her over the phone. I told her I can’t help it. It has become a habit when I speak on the phone.) One afternoon, Grandma told me she could hear music. I was alarmed. The hearing aids give out a short melody when the battery is weak. I asked if she removed the battery at night as instructed and she said yes. I asked her how loud the music was and for how long, and she replied loud enough but she couldn’t make out the English lyrics. I asked to speak to her caregiver, Farida. Farida said she could hear the music as well, from a neighbor’s radio. Phew!