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This article was published 5/3/2015 (2424 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A friend came for a Saturday-morning coffee and as usual, his visit was greeted by a cacophony of barking from my two mutts desperate to say hello and get their heads patted. When things finally quieted down and we were enjoying coffee, I asked him how his week was.
And then it happened. The moment every hearing-impaired person hates.
"I just told you all about it when we walked into the kitchen," was his reply. In the din of the animals, I hadn't heard a word he said. I had to apologize and he had to repeat himself.
I hate when that happens. And it happens a lot.
Being hearing-impaired means you often have to ask people to repeat themselves, to slow down, to enunciate, to take their hand away from their mouth, to come closer, to turn off the television. It also means that you can't relax, particularly in social settings such as restaurants, live theatre or large meetings, because you have to concentrate on what's being said. It takes a lot of energy being deaf.
The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association says roughly 10 to 15 per cent of Canadians suffer some form of hearing loss. Hearing loss may result from genetic causes, complications at birth, certain infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, the use of particular drugs, exposure to excessive noise and aging. For folks over 60, half will have a hearing loss with which they have to cope.
But the World Health Organization is now warning 1.1 billion young people are at risk of suffering hearing problems. The reason? What they put in their ears.
Robert Corbeil, the national executive director of the CHHA calls them the iPod generation. "You can see them, on a bus, kids 14, 15, 16 years old listening to their iPods and you can hear the music coming out of their earbuds. You know that their hearing is being damaged." Once the damage is done, it's permanent.
The WHO is suggesting some simple steps to prevent hearing loss, such as lowering the volume on things such as iPods or using earplugs to mitigate prolonged exposure to noise. But try telling that to a 16-year-old, more interested in being cool than worrying about hearing loss.
For those who are diagnosed as hearing-impaired, it can take, on average, seven to 10 years before they will make the move toward buying hearing aids. I waited even longer -- almost 20 years to get my aids, instead coping in all manner of creative ways. The reason? The price is prohibitive. Hearing aids can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000 per aid and in many cases the patient has to buy two.
Moreover, research indicates the price of hearing aids keeps climbing, at a time when other electronic devices become cheaper and cheaper. As Candice Appler from the Polo Park Hearing Centre points out, with baby boomers aging and driving up demand for hearing aids, manufacturers have responded by increasing technology, and that means more costs for research and development. For example, hearing aids can now be synched with iPhones or are Bluetooth-compatible. These extras cost money. Few benefit programs offer much in way of subsidies for hearing aids, meaning most of the cost has to be borne by the individual. Compare this to eyeglasses, which you can pick up relatively cheaply (particularly if you watch for sales), with benefit packages covering a substantive percentage.
Most provinces do provide some form of subsidy for those looking to purchase hearing aids, particularly for seniors. Except Manitoba. In Manitoba, you're on your own once you hit the age of 18.
In 2013, when it was revealed this province is one of the worst in Canada for not providing assistance for those needing hearing aids, then-health minister Theresa Oswald said she was ordering a review of the program. Not much seems to have happened since. While kids under the age of 18 do have 80 per cent of their hearing-aid costs subsidized, those on low incomes or seniors have to pay for it themselves -- which means it likely won't happen. They can't afford what amounts to a couple of months' salary just to hear.
In a country that values the principle of socialized medicine, not having a national subsidy to help people hear seems ludicrous, particularly as the number of hearing-impaired climbs. Perhaps once the NDP leadership shenanigans settle down here in Manitoba, the province can once again commit to improving the programs on offer.
Or will these concerns fall on deaf ears?
Shannon Sampert is the Free Press perspectives and politics editor.
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