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Coping With Hearing Loss, With, And Without Technology

Lauren Silverman

For the more than 30 million Americans with significant hearing loss, hearing aids aren’t always a perfect solution. Sometimes they’re too expensive, sometimes too tricky to use. At the Callier Center for Communication Disorders, a workshop helps people of all ages learn to maximize their communication skills – with and without technology.

Cherrylyn Wilson isn’t sure exactly howthe wireless microphone and receiver tucked behind her ear work to make listening easier, but she knows how this high tech device makes her feel.

“So connected to the rest of the world, the rest of the environment that I’m in,” she says. “I’m able to contribute to the conversation, and hear what’s been said to me.”

Credit Lauren Silverman / KERA News
Cherrylyn Wilson, 70, wearing a high-tech assistive listening device call the Roger Receiver attached to her hearing aid.

Wilson, who’s 70, started losing her hearing when she was 28. Although she eventually got hearing aids, she says that doesn’t completely solve the problem.

“It’s not enough to receive your [hearing] aids and go home,” Wilson says, “Because you don’t get instructions, counseling, and feedback.”

Which is why Wilson, along with a dozen other people with hearing loss, are at UT Dallas’ Callier Center for Communication Disorders. They’re participating in a week long workshop trying out new technology, and communication techniques to use with friends and family.

A Concern For Couples

UT Dallas professor Linda Thibodeau says hearing loss doesn’t affect one person, it affects everyone around them they’re trying to communicate with. That’s why Thibodeau has run this workshop for twelve years – encouraging people to come with husbands, wives, parents and children.

“Many times couples are very frustrated about their communication,” she says, “And even though they may have purchased a $6 thousand pair of hearing aids, they go home and they’re still struggling to hear each other because they’re talking to each other from separate rooms.”

So, Thibodeau goes over technology, but also the physics of sound – and why you to get someone’s attention before speaking to them.

Wilma Lusk has been trying to get her husband, Ray, to use hearing aids for years. He finally did just a few months ago. And he not only noticed how loud the TV had been, but also how he hadn’t been able to hear his wife when they were driving and she tried to point things out from the passenger seat.

“I needed to have a hearing aid a long time ago but I didn’t,” Ray Lusk says.

Ray says he no longer has to bluff — pretend he understands someone in a crowded room with background noise.

Credit Lauren Silverman / KERA News
Ray and Wilma Lusk, from Tulsa, are at the Callier center for Communication Disorders to practice listening and speaking techniques.

“I would give an indication that I knew what they were saying when I was trying to piece it together.”

Not Trying To Blend In

The point of this weeklong workshop isn’t to learn to blend in – or avoid asking for help. Quite the opposite, Linda Thibodeau says.

“We actually really promote – especially with our teens and younger children – bright colored hearing aids (…) because what we’re trying to teach people here are strategies to help you communicate better with individuals and if you keep that façade that you don’t need any special accommodations then that only compounds the problem.”

After a week of practice and field trips to noisy places, the hope is participants go home with more confidence using the assisted listening devices they have, and the ability to cope when a battery dies or technology isn’t enough.

Thibodeau is working with universities across the country to create their own workshops for communication modeled after the one she oversees at UT Dallas.

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.