Hearing Vibes: Both hearing impaired: A couple’s journey



Walt and Tiggy Shields and Maria Menconi

Hearing loss brings dramatic change to one’s life, and our journey literally has been forged together. Following years of intermittent, then full-time tinnitus (ringing in the ears), Tiggy realized she was struggling with her hearing. Four years after arriving in SaddleBrooke, she decided to take a free hearing test she saw advertised in a Tucson newspaper. Ironically, when she asked Walt to come along and provide his subjective feedback on Tiggy’s loss, they offered to test Walt as well (smart marketing!). His loss was even greater! This was no surprise to Tiggy, but Walt hadn’t keyed in on (or faced?) his own reality since it had progressed so slowly over more than a decade. With referrals in hand from our general provider, we sought professional testing with an audiologist. And so, our journey began. We now committed to move forward, even if we didn’t understand what lay ahead.

Our new hearing aids were amazing! We were encouraged, excited, and optimistic that we would again be able to connect better with people around us in social settings, including small groups, even as we fully understood that our aids would not re-create what our “good” ears had always provided. The digital sound was certainly different, plus it took a few visits with our audiologist to dial in the best settings. Part of our learning was also coming to terms with the challenge of word clarity, especially important for Walt’s hearing loss. If people spoke too fast, looked away, or mumbled, we were lost. We could hear, but could not catch the words. In our learning curve with hearing aids, we were beginning to realize that much of our new challenge was also word discernment, even with enhanced volume.

Our hearing loss impacted us emotionally and practically. In addition to feeling isolated, we found we must now choose which activities we can undertake and those we must give up. We look more closely at accepting leadership positions, joining group discussions, attending Bible studies or large functions, and even singing in choir. We’ve come to realize that well-intentioned friends trying to help us hear better can only briefly change their speaking style, their volume, or their diction. Even with the boost of aids, we continue to miss some of what goes on around us. Life, as we age, is about giving up things or accepting what cannot be changed. Even so, we fully agree that our hearing aids are a gift beyond measure.

Our communication as a couple in the face of hearing loss has taken patience and compassion. At times, our best intentions have led to failure, hurt feelings, frustration, and discouragement. We don’t always remember the needs of the other, nor demonstrate patience and speak as we should. These struggles remain ongoing. Despite the challenges and facing the reality that we can never return to where we used to be, we are so grateful for the gift of ever-improving hearing loss technology.

From the start of our own journey, we have been strong advocates with friends and neighbors about seeking help. We realize that many people are fearful about moving forward and learning more. Friends tell us that they are embarrassed and don’t want folks to know about their condition, or, if they tried aids, they were disappointed, so they stopped wearing them. For these folks, we would say “hang in there.” Give it some time. If you are on the fence, know that you are not alone. Statistics suggest that roughly 50% of our SaddleBrooke neighbors face some level of hearing loss—an astounding number. How sad for a person to let the years pass with declining hearing and increasing isolation when professional help can transform their life for the better.

Last winter, we joined the new Hearing Loss Advocacy and Peer Support Group in SaddleBrooke that meets monthly. We’re learning so much about support options, and we’ve received and offered encouragement, joined discussions about how SaddleBrooke can improve its “services” for the hearing impaired, and heard presenters from the University of Arizona’s Audiology department. This journey need not be taken alone. Please join us, and bring a friend!

The meetings are held monthly from 10 a.m. to noon at the MountainView Bistro Building in SaddleBrooke (specific room assignments are below):

Thursday, Oct. 10: Saguaro Room

Thursday, Nov. 14: Ballroom West

Thursday, Dec. 12: Ballroom West

If you have questions or would like more information, contact Jennifer Jefferis at [email protected] or 360-909-6212, or Dick and Judy Kroese at [email protected] or 520-360-5789.

If you happen to be a retired hearing professional, an audiologist or an ear, nose and throat specialist living in SaddleBrooke, we would love to invite you to join and support us with your professional knowledge and ideas.