Hearing loss is the third-most common health issue in the United States, behind arthritis and heart disease. Even though it affects 17 percent of Americans of all ages, hearing loss is not easily recognized.
“If someone walks in blind, people in the room experience a sense of pity. But if someone walks in with hearing loss, it’s a sense of comedy,” said Dr. Brian McKinnon, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Georgia Health Sciences University.
“It isn’t visible, so people think they are ignorant because they don’t understand what’s going on. But it’s because they can’t hear.”
Help is available to people with hearing loss in the Augusta area. The Hearing Loss Association of America has an Augusta chapter, one of only four across the state. The chapter was presented the Phoenix Award at the national convention in Washington, D.C., in June. Created specifically to honor the Augusta chapter, the award symbolizes the group’s successful efforts to revive and reinvigorate the chapter, which now has 50 members.
The club meets the third Monday of each month from September to May at First Baptist Church on Walton Way Extension.
“I learned a lot about hearing loss,” said Sarah Allen, a charter member of Augusta’s group.
“And I made so many wonderful, wonderful friends. We support each other and have a good time doing it.”
Meetings start with a social time and refreshments at 5:30 p.m. in room 101 of the Adult Building. A brief business meeting begins at 6 p.m., followed by an educational speaker or planned social activity.
“We have speakers about hearing loss, cochlear implants, stress problems related to hearing loss, hearing dogs – that was one of our most popular programs,” said Dave Welster, the chapter vice president.
Valerie Martin said a meeting that dealt with hearing loss in the workplace was particularly helpful because she works as a secretary in a government office.
“This group has been a great support,” Martin said. “Two years ago my hearing aids didn’t work, and they helped me know what to do. It’s a great support group. I like all the different topics.”
McKinnon said hearing loss can be inherited, a result of accidents or exposure to loud noise, disease, tumors, malformations in the inner ear or, simply, aging.
“Despite the mechanisms, the challenges are universal — they can’t communicate,” he said.
People with hearing loss can’t hear in big groups or crowded places, have trouble understanding children or women with high-pitched voices, and don’t know when people are talking behind them, according to group members.
The local chapter makes information packets for hospital patients with hearing loss. The packets include a pad and pencil for communicating, a “face me, I’m hard of hearing” pin, tips on how to communicate, and a big sign to hang over the bed.
“It’s surprising how many doctors do not know how to communicate with hearing loss,” Welster said.
He explained that doctors and hospital staff members are busy looking down, writing in files, looking at equipment, or standing behind the patient during an exam and don’t realize they aren’t being heard. That is the reason McKinney tries to attend every chapter meeting.
“It’s very good for me, because it gets me out of my ivory tower. It gives me a sense of the real world, reminds me of the reason I’m here,” he said with a smile.
“And they enjoy me coming because they get a free consultation.”