I'm Molly Berry and I teach ‘Lipreading and Managing Hearing loss’ classes. There are estimated to be about 10 million people in the UK with some sort of hearing problem, including tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and about 4 million of these people are hearing aid users, so you are sure to know someone who is struggling to hear.
These are difficult times for all of us, but for those with hearing loss there are added problems, you see, hearing aids don't cure hearing loss - we need to confirm what someone is saying by watching the face, and in particular, the lips, which is impossible with everyone wearing masks. The regulations state that if you are with a person who needs to lipread, you don't have to wear a mask, also, if you meet someone who is deaf or has hearing loss, you are asked to move two metres away and lower your mask when speaking to them. This may not be something everyone is aware of.
It can be very isolating, and mental health issues go hand in hand with hearing loss, which isn't helped by the stigma associated with it. Though it is more common in the older age group, hearing loss can affect anyone of any age or ethnicity, and people often don't want to admit they are struggling to hear. Then there is listening fatigue. Because we must concentrate really hard, just to hear the words that are being said, we run out of processing capacity, so we may not remember what was said. We end the day exhausted. Background noise is a huge problem for us. Natural hearing is able to block out most of that, and focus on the sounds you want to hear, but hearing aids amplify everything, the aids can't know what we want to hear and what we don't, so social situations are particularly difficult, which is really sad, because we often feel like outsiders in our own families, which is especially hard at Christmas.
But there are things all of us can do to help those with hearing loss, from wearing clear face masks, lowering your mask when you speak to someone who is hard of hearing, making sure you are facing the person, getting their attention before you start, speaking clearly and not too fast. In a group, let the person with hearing loss know the topic, and when that topic changes, speak one at a time, and turn down the music.
Molly Berry is the Chair of ATLA (Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults.)