‘I did not know others heard differently to me’ – charity CEO

A Dublin City-based CEO, who used subtitles during Zoom seminars to comprehend what was being said, before a diagnosis of hearing loss, says it was a revelation others were not hearing as she did.

Helen Walmsley, aged in her fifties, is head of Voluntary Service International, the Irish branch of an international peace network.

She said hearing aids changed her life and urged those who suspect hearing loss to get tested, because “life is so much easier when you can hear.”

Helen got her hearing aids from Chime, the national charity for deaf and hard of hearing people, which today (Wednesday, February 28) told the Oireachtas Health Committee of the urgent need for the Department of Health to implement a promised national hearing care plan. 

World Hearing Day takes place on Sunday (March 3) next. The Chime delegation sought strengthened state support for those dealing with hearing loss. 

It says the plan should provide a clear pathway as to how people can address hearing loss through cutting waiting lists and making hearing aids more accessible and affordable.

Chime will highlight how Ireland prescribes hearing aids at approximately half the rate of the UK – ensuring people are struggling with hearing loss with no support. 

Helen told how she was “fed up” with the frustration, embarrassment and exhaustion of having to look directly at those speaking to her, asking people to repeat themselves numerous times and the negative impact on her social life due to difficulty dealing with background noise.

“But I did not realise other people were not hearing as I did. It was a revelation that I needed hearing aids. 

“I have mild to moderate hearing loss. I can hear high pitched and low pitched sound, but mid-ranged frequencies, voices and music, is where my hearing loss is. 

“So I did not know there were all sorts of things I was not hearing properly.

“When I put in my hearing aids in the for the first time I could hear a clock ticking in the audiologist’s room I had not heard before and my clothes brushing against a chair. 

“Sounds became richer.  I wanted to hear familiar voices, which are more nuanced for me now.  

“Each sound is now an individual thing, everything sounds better.

“I did not know the extent of my difficulty until I got hearing aids. Without them, sounds seem muffled now, but this was normality for me before I got them.

“You do not know what you cannot hear.  Life is much easier now.  Before, I had difficulty holding a proper conversation and would miss a lot of what was being said.

“Now, I find it interesting how many people tell me they or family members cannot hear very well.  

“Lots of people think they do not want hearing aids because others will see them and they will feel self-conscious.

“But they are so small, mine are behind the ear and people tell me they do not really notice them.

“It takes getting used, to but hearing aids now are so technologically advanced. Mine come with an app, which I can use to adjust volume, prioritise sound direction and reduce background noise. 

“It is easy to use and I can alter them for different work and social settings. 

 “I know now I was tired from the effort to understand. I had to constantly look directly at those speaking to me and ask people to repeat themselves numerous times. It was embarrassing.

“When I was out socially, background noise made it difficult to hear what was being said and follow conversations.”

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