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Year of the dragon will be life-changing for 75-year-old Denise – now she can hear she’s unstoppable

Denise has been a dragon boat devotee for nearly 20 years. But as her hearing gradually got worse it became harder and harder to hear when she was out on the water.
Denise Clayton holding her paddle in front of her dragon boat
  • Hearing

Denise has been a dragon boat devotee for nearly 20 years. But as her hearing gradually got worse it became harder and harder to hear when she was out on the water.

During regattas, when messages were shouted over a loudspeaker, or when calls on strategy were being made in the boat, Denise began to need the help of a paddler sitting next to her to repeat instructions.

Denise is a super-fit 75, and in her forties, she started losing her hearing from long-term chronic middle-ear disease. At first, she had one hearing aid, then two, but eventually her hearing deteriorated to the point where the hearing aids were no longer enough.

Hearing aids amplify sound, while cochlear implants stimulate the auditory nerve and send signals direct to the brain so you can hear if you have little or no existing sound. Which hearing solution is best for each person depends on the type of hearing loss they have.

A year ago, when Denise realised she was a candidate for a cochlear implant, she finally made the decision to end the struggle and go the next step. She now has a hearing aid in her left ear and a cochlear implant in her right – implanted via surgery that involved one night in hospital.

“I had reached the stage where I only had absolutely minimal hearing left,” she says.

My hearing over the decades was just ebbing away and I was a bit concerned about the operation, but I realised that I really had nothing to lose because the hearing aids just couldn’t work effectively for me anymore.

— Denise

“It also used to be tough when lots of people were talking at the same time or turned their heads away from me – I couldn’t get what they were saying, if I was on the floor at a yoga class, I couldn’t understand the instructor.”

It has taken a year of practice and adjustment to hear using the devices, but she has made amazing progress with the help of her NextSense audiology team. Now she is seeing the results pay off. She is able to keep doing the things she loves and can keep up with her grandchildren – knowing what they are up to even when they are out of sight.

“At the start you just hear robotic, electronic sounds but after my operation I was referred to NextSense at Broadmeadow and started working on re-educating my brain to distinguish all the sounds I was hearing,” she says.

Now that I am tuned into my new cochlear implants, they have helped me so much that I rarely need someone to relay instructions on the boat. It has been life changing.

— Denise

This World Hearing Day (3 March), the World Health Organization is calling on countries to work to change mindsets on hearing loss. Over a third of all adult hearing loss is preventable, 80% of hearing needs go unmet and the cost of unaddressed hearing loss costs an annual US$1 trillion across the globe. But the WHO says deeply ingrained societal misperceptions and stigmatising mindsets limit efforts for preventing and addressing this.

Denise says her own feelings about hearing loss were standing in the way of tackling the issue but her supportive family can take credit for encouraging her to make a change.

“I was worried about the look of the cochlears and my grandaughter said straight up it doesn’t matter what it looks like – it’s about you being able to communicate with me. My niece had auditory nerve damage and got her cochlear implants a few years ago so she encouraged me a lot.”

Denise's story was featured in the Newcastle Herald. Read the Herald story (paywalled) and on our podcast. Listen or read the transcript.

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