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'What did you say?' When the laughter stops and you're faced with hearing loss

This is part of the Healthy Hearing book review series. This book was selected because of the relevance in the hearing loss community. Susanne Jones is the customer support specialist for Healthy Hearing and wrote the following review. Additionally, she also is a licensed hearing aid dispenser and has a hearing loss experience of her own. 

“I decided to finally get a hearing aid.”

“Oh yeah? What kind is it?”

“It’s about 4 o’clock.”

We’ve all heard jokes about hearing loss. When the laughter stops, however, you're forced to deal with reality. The story Monique Hammond tells in her 2012 book, What Did You Say?, is both a compelling personal narrative and powerful resource about hearing loss for people who are ready to accept their own hearing loss or that of a loved one, and get solid information.

As a registered pharmacist, Hammond is definitely well-versed in medical issues, but in this book she approaches her own sudden sensorineural hearing loss and balance problems as a layman. Her writing is clear and easy to understand even for those who aren’t familiar with hearing loss. There are several books out there offering first-hand accounts of hearing loss, and countless textbooks too technical for the average person without specialized audiology training to enjoy. This book is an easy-to-read option for those who want both a memoir of life with hearing loss, as well as hard facts and good advice.

In What Did You Say?, Hammond weaves her own first-hand account of suddenly losing a significant amount of her hearing, as well as an attack of horrifying balance issues and tinnitus (ringing or sounds of the ears). Unfortunately, her journey was fraught with frustrations, dead ends and unanswered questions, both asked and unasked. The book also has both a broad overview of hearing loss causes and types, as well as detailed information about specific disorders of hearing and balance. It is technically accurate and presented clearly.

Let me first make the disclaimer that as a licensed hearing instrument specialist, I have studied all of the disorders and situations described in this book. I’ve also worked with countless patients with a wide range of hearing-related issues. So while I couldn’t read this book as someone with no knowledge of hearing loss, I can confidently say that Hammond does a great job of explaining things in a way that people can understand and her information is solid.

In addition to being a hearing care professional, though, I am also a person with hearing loss. My journey with adult-onset hearing loss is very different than Hammond’s. I began to lose my hearing gradually in my late twenties and was wearing hearing aids a few years later. My own experience was not nearly as frustrating as what she went through; however, it was my own experience with lack of information and compassion from hearing care professionals that made me decide to pursue additional education and change careers to become a hearing care practitioner.

Because of my lifelong exposure to relatives with profound hearing loss, I didn't view it as the devastating diagnosis that many people do. Becoming a person with hearing impairment has not ruined my life. In fact, in some ways it has enhanced my life because it helped me to make the choice to go a different direction with my career, which has been extremely rewarding. It gives me empathy for the patients and practitioners around me and makes me really good at test-driving and programming hearing aids. Does hearing loss affect my everyday life? Yes, absolutely. However, I can honestly say that it does not have a significant negative impact on my day-to-day life. Most people who meet me for the first time are surprised to find out that I have hearing loss and am wearing hearing aids.

Because of my own experience, reading about Hammond’s situation was very interesting to me. It was difficult for me to imagine how terrifying it must be to experience sudden hearing loss. Her personal narrative covers everything from the moment her hearing loss occurred, to her long and frustrating journey to find answers, getting a hearing aid, reclaiming her balance and making peace with her tinnitus. She encountered many roadblocks and had to be very persistent to get the care she needed.

Unfortunately, Hammond’s experience is not an anomaly. Many people with a sudden-onset condition have to fight to find answers and solutions. Along the way, Hammond learned a tremendous amount about hearing loss and how it is diagnosed and treated. She also learned that “doctors are not that much into hearings aids.” One doctor she went to merely told her that she “could consider” looking into getting a hearing aid and “it might help or it might not.” This is a sad, but true example of how many medical doctors tend to be quite uninformed about how much hearing aids can improve quality of life for people with hearing impairment. In the hearing care field, we see this every day and it leads me to wonder how many more people with hearing loss could be helped by hearing aids if only their medical doctors would get on board with recommending them.

In the informational section, Hammond explains the basics of audiology, the elements of an audiogram and what causes hearing loss. There is also extensive information about Ménière's disease, tinnitus and hyperacusis. Hammond gives very comprehensive information about hearing aid types and styles, as well as the process of buying hearing aids. The book also touches on assistive listening devices, sign language and implants including middle ear implants, cochlear implants and bone anchored hearing aids.

She rounds out her book with some good information about the emotions that often surround a hearing loss diagnosis and some exceptional checklists to help people who are purchasing hearing aids. In some ways, the latter portion of the book is much like a textbook of hearing loss information, but written in a manner that is easy for anyone to understand.

As a whole, the information in What Did You Say? could be more than what an individual might need, but all of it is well-written, factual and someone could easily pick and choose which sections they need to read. For anyone in the hearing care field, this book would be a great resource for ideas about how to communicate information about hearing loss in ways that are easy for people to understand.

As a hearing care practitioner, I seriously wish that every person with hearing loss had all of the information in this book readily available to them. As a person with adult-onset hearing loss, I would have liked to have had all of this information when I first began to struggle with my own loss.

What Did You Say? is engaging, interesting and a wealth of information. I recommend it for anyone interested in communication disorders, hearing loss, balance issues or tinnitus. My only real criticism of this entire book was I found myself wishing that Hammond had talked a bit more about her own personal experience. I recognize that I am biased, though, because I already knew the factual information about hearing loss. I think that the average reader picking this up is going to feel like there's good balance of information about hearing loss and first-person narrative. Overall I genuinely enjoyed reading it and I think others will, as well.