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May 5, 2004

'I was embarrassed to wear my hearing aid'

From: BBC News - London,England,UK - May 5, 2004

Jane Elliott
BBC News Online health staff

When Mike Waite was fighting testicular cancer the last thing on his mind was how it would affect his hearing.

Before he started on his chemotherapy doctors had warned him that he might suffer some hearing loss.

But as the four month treatment started, he noticed a serious deterioration of hearing.

As time went on his hearing got worse and soon he was finding it very difficult to carry out his job as a financial adviser.


But like many other people suddenly faced with a disability, Mike was reluctant to take action and get himself a hearing aid as he was worried about being pigeon holed.

And when he did bite the bullet and try out hearing aids he found the NHS models he was offered too unsightly and the private aids too expensive.

"I tried to live with the loss, but realised I needed a hearing aid, as I found it quite difficult listening to clients and had to ask most questions twice to hear the answer.

"Things just started to sound different, some things were louder, but other things were more unclear.

"I could remember how things were supposed to sound, but I realised they were not sounding like that any more."

Mike realised that he needed a hearing aid, but was embarrassed at the thought of having to wear one and worried that he would be instantly labelled as someone with a disability.

"I did try a new digital over-the-ear aid initially, but never got used to it.

"I must admit it was mainly an embarrassment thing - I felt that as an adviser I would be seen to be having a disability and that this may effect my relationship with clients.

"I know this is completely irrational and that people in general would probably be more willing to do business with me - but I didn't want to have this as a first impression.

"My audiologist just said 'here is your hearing aid' and when I said to him that I didn't want to wear a visible hearing aid he just said 'change your hairstyle'."


Mike then started to look around at in-ear pieces which he felt more comfortable wearing, but was horrified at the prices he was quoted.

"I realised that if I wanted an in-ear hearing aid I would have to sort it myself. I was even planning to go to America or elsewhere in Europe because I found the prices were cheaper there."

One manufacturer told him that it would cost him £5,000 to get hearing aids for both ears, but after an internet trawl he found a professional audiologist who would fit and supply them for half the price.

Mike has now been fitted with the hearing aids, but is calling for a cut in prices throughout the UK to help others in the same position.

"The costs should be a lot less. Hearing aid companies in the UK are making a big profit and it is pretty much a closed shop."

A spokesman for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) agreed that the cost of hearing aids was considerably higher in the UK, than elsewhere, but said this was because so many people get their aids on the NHS.

"This leaves a very small market for private aids, and each private dispenser sells only two or three hearing aids a week.

"This means that all his/her business costs are loaded onto a very small number of sales."


She said that although there was still some stigma associated with the wearing of hearing aids that many of the younger users were proud to wear their aids and even drew attention to them.

"Modern behind-the-ear aids are much neater than old ones and come in a range of colours to match hair or skin tone.

"In fact people often find that they are no more visible than in-the-ear aids (where it is sometimes very obvious that someone has a solid piece of plastic in their ear).

"This also raises the wider question of general attitudes to deafness - why there should be such stigma attached to wearing hearing aids when people generally wear glasses without embarrassment.

"The majority of people lose their hearing as they get older. Losing your hearing does not mean losing your marbles.

"Young deaf people are increasingly choosing to make a feature of their hearing aids - getting them in bright colours or using glitter and their favourite logos."

And she said that anyone wanting to buy their own aid, rather than get one from the NHS should consult the RNID before making a purchase.

RNID Information line Tel: 0808 808 0123 Text 0808 808 9000