The members of BIHIMA are committed to understanding the experiences of those with hearing loss and allowing that feedback to shape the technology they pioneer.

In the fifth in our series of real stories of hearing loss, we tell the story of Robert, an RAF veteran who was forced to take early retirement from the Ambulance Service due to his worsening hearing loss. Robert explains how he came back from a place of despair and was able to enjoy life again, thanks to his audiologist and her efforts to find the right hearing technology for his needs.

“I spent 9 years as a fireman, in the Royal Air Force, and some of that time was served in the Middle East. I started to suffer from deafness and I was told that it was caused by failing to dry my ears correctly. When I was demobbed, I joined the Ambulance Service and went up through the ranks to become a Divisional Manager. However, as well as the rapidly increasing deafness, I suffered from tinnitus which was so bad that I could not sleep. So in the end I went to our local A&E Department. They referred me to a local ENT consultant who prescribed hearing aids. I was even given a masker for the tinnitus but it didn’t have any effect. I really did try with the hearing aids but eventually they were put in a drawer and forgotten.

“I gradually became despondent and I didn‘t want to go where there were lots of people. I could not communicate because I just couldn‘t hear and I felt very isolated. Some people are very thoughtless and they would tell my wife that I was miserable because I did not get involved in conversations which upset us both. Unfortunately, people cannot see deafness – there are no scars, slings, bandages or crutches, and people have to be in your company for a length of time before they realise the problem. My wife wanted me to go for a free hearing test but I felt it was a waste of time. If the hospital were unable to help then there was no hope for me.”

Unfortunately, Robert’s situation got worse before it got better. This is a common story, with recent Eurotrak research showing that 71% of hearing device wearers in the UK wished they had got their hearing aid sooner. For Robert, it was the difficulties he experienced at work that were the final straw: “As a Divisional Manager, I had to partake in many meetings but it was becoming increasingly difficult to hear what was being said, no matter where I positioned myself. I became very anxious that I would be asked to pass on orders to staff, which I may have misunderstood or misheard, so I decided, with the support of my doctor, to take early retirement. This had a major effect on me going from a highly responsible job to nothing and I became very withdrawn and isolated.

“Then, one day, I felt I had nothing else to lose, so I announced, to my wife’s great delight, that I was going to make an appointment for a hearing test.  In sheer desperation, I arrived for my appointment. I was told that I had lost all the high-pitched sounds and if I’m honest I thought “here we go again”.  Then she put the headphones on me and plugged me in. The loud noise I heard made me jump – it was a shock. My wife asked if I could hear clearly and I was delighted to tell her that I could. She was in tears and so was my audiologist.

“I was prescribed new hearing aids and I also purchased a compilot, which enabled me to watch the television without the sound deafening other people in the room, as well as a mobile phone that was compatible via Bluetooth. I was also encouraged to purchase a drier because, in hot weather, my hearing aids would be affected by perspiration. It is a brilliant piece of kit.”

For Robert, the result was completely transformative. “It was as if I had been given a second chance at life. I telephoned our son from my new mobile phone and he couldn’t believe it when we were able to have a conversation.  We went on holiday and for the first time and I felt part of the crowd. We started visiting the theatre and I was able to hear, through the loop system, all the music I love.”

But it didn’t stop there. Robert soon discovered that there was even better hearing available to him as he and his audiologist began to experiment with the technology. His current pair are the latest model manufactured by one of the BIHIMA members: “they are much smaller and lighter and fit into the ear canal. They are virtually invisible and because of the colour it is difficult to see them. I hardly know I am wearing them, they are so comfortable.  My wife and I decided to go on a cruise – in fact we are due to go on our fourth cruise in the summer!  My audiologist gave me and my wife our lives back. We have recommended lots of people, who, like me, had given up hope.”

This case study is based on Robert’s nomination of his audiologist, Jessica Kyei-Yamoah, for the Audiologist of the Year 2017 competition: www.audiologistoftheyear.co.uk

Audiologist of the Year is a highly acclaimed award within the hearing industry, celebrating the exceptional work of hearing care professionals across Europe. Now in its eleventh year, the competition invites patients to nominate their audiologist to be rewarded for their exceptional hearing care services. For more information, please visit www.audiologistoftheyear.eu

You can read the other stories in our series here:

Fintan’s story

Sue’s story

Stuart’s story

Clive’s story