Deaf for a day: Recorder reporter visits Romford in earplugs to get a glimpse of life with hearing loss

Last week, an audiologist saved my life.

I was walking down an unusually quiet South Street. Despite the bustling market, the Friday morning shoppers and the two Specsavers workers chatting next to me, everything was tranquil.

Unfortunately, the van behind me was also tranquil. Luckily, one of my companions realised what was happening and whisked me out of the way with seconds to spare.

Five minutes earlier I’d had a set of fetching purple earplugs moulded directly into my ears, cutting my hearing by about 40 per cent – enough to reduce the screaming fruit sellers and the country music blaring out of one of the stalls to an escapist hum, as though the rest of the world were coming out of someone else’s headphones.

In reality, I was the one shouting incoherently at the fruit sellers and wandering blithely into the path of oncoming traffic.

I had agreed to take part in the Specsavers “deaf for a day” project, intended to get journalists to speak up about the issues faced by people with hearing loss. I hadn’t realised it would be dangerous.

One in six people in Britain are hard of hearing but the issue often goes unmentioned. As a result, relationships and routines can become challenging. There are only so many times you can ask people to repeat themselves before you or they give up. Activities like going to the post office or catching a train can become daunting because of the risk of an unexpected question you can’t hear and so can’t answer. As we sat down I ordered a black coffee with relative ease – but I hadn’t actually wanted one. My attempt to buy braeburns at the market (I ended up with royal galas) had put me off asking for all but the simplest products, scared of having to repeat myself or not understanding a response.

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Later, Anita told me a lot of what I had been saying had been too quiet to hear so she’d just been nodding politely. Losing your hearing means you don’t know how loudly to talk – some people overcompensate and shout, and some end up inaudible over background noise.

As a journalist, I spend most of my time listening to people. I can’t rely on lip-reading because I do a lot of interviews over the phone. When I do meet people face-to-face, I have to look down at my shorthand pad most of the time. If I had to ask people to repeat every other word, I doubt I’d get many stories out of them.

Anita told me about customers who’d come to her after years of denial about their hearing loss, only to have their lives transformed by a hearing aid. Family members whose loved ones had become withdrawn, antisocial and irritable said their spouses and parents were back to their old selves. She mentioned a 92-year-old who had had a hearing aid fitted so she could carry on with her volunteering work, and a woman who had cried during her grandson’s last school play because she’d never heard him speak on stage before – he’d always been too quiet.

So the message is: if you believe you’re losing your hearing, don’t keep quiet. Experts recommend people over 55 have their hearing tested every two years. To book a free test at Specsavers Romford, call 01708 724475.