An Open Letter of Thanks to Dan Rather for Bringing Hearing Loss to the Forefront of a Discussion

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Dear Dan Rather,

In late January you were a guest speaker at my local Barnes & Noble store to discuss What Unites Us, a book authored by you & Elliot Kirschner (https://www.amazon.com/What-Unites-Us-Reflections-Patriotism).   The crowds arrived early, and people began to line up well before starting time.

I am a late-deafened baby boomer, but I am a bilateral cochlear implant recipient, so I can function pretty well while wearing my devices.  Due to my less-than-perfect hearing, I arrive at these events well in advance to ensure good seating.  On this particular evening, I was able to get a second-row seat in the center of the event area.  Eager and ready, I pulled out a small microphone that serves as an assistive device to supplement my cochlear devices.  Needless to say, staying connected to our world is a priority those of us who suffer from profound hearing loss need to keep up with.

As the program began, the crowds clapped and you were seated.  It took a few small adjustments to make sure the store’s microphone for the event was working optimally.  I sat in my seat feeling somewhat conspicuous pointing my personal microphone in your direction.  As you looked straight ahead, I did my best to hear the program and get the full benefit from assistive technology. But wait.  Did I spot at least one hearing aid when you turned your head?  Perhaps then, you would understand why I was pointing this tiny device in your direction.  I was trying to get the full benefit of your words.

Right before the questions from the audience began, you stated you had a confession to make.  You informed the audience that your hearing is not what it used to be, preparing them for the possibility of not hearing a question or even answering it inappropriately through no fault of your own.  Then you went on to tell the audience about Walter Cronkite who suffered from hearing loss in his lifetime.  You added a humorous story that so many of us whose hearing is not what it used to be can relate to.

But it didn’t end there.  A young man in the audience with a small child opened a discussion about race.  He said that he looked around the room and there were few people in the audience that looked like people “where he comes from.”  It was so important that the young child with him could witness your insightful response.  It was also important to me that this young child heard you speak openly about your own hearing loss, sometimes with the humor we all need to keep things in perspective.

Finally, often on social media I see young people with hearing loss or culturally Deaf individuals ask what kind of job someone with hearing loss can do.  You validated the point that persons with hearing loss can be whatever they want to be just by being present and speaking candidly.  Hearing loss is a disability, and unfortunately issues concerning persons with disabilities is an often forgotten part of discussions about diversity.

Getting back to that small child, through your words, the next generation was reminded that although change often comes slowly, an open discussion gives a voice to those of us who have felt on the outskirts of society for whatever reason.  Mr. Rather, that is something that unites us, and I thank you.

With gratitude,

Mary Grace Whalen

Dan Rather’s website is www.danrather.com  

Here is a link to a humorous story Dan Rather has posted on hearing loss and aging:

 

 

 

 

 

Why Hearing Health Is Far More Important Than We Thought, And What We Can Do To Be Proactive

It seems every week there is a new report linking hearing loss to a host of diseases and conditions.  Why did it take us so long to realize whatever happens to one part of the body often affects other areas?

Homeostasis– The tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes (www.dictionary.com)

For starters, most of us who have worn hearing aids have foot the bill out of our own pockets for decades.  It seems the insurance industry did not make the connection between hearing loss and how it can affect overall health.  That is unfortunate.  Expensive for us, and perhaps in the end expensive for them if you count the number of people who have not treated hearing loss over the years because it was cost-prohibitive if the connection to disease is correct.  Everything we do, every emotion, every small action contributes to our homeostasis.

There are studies going as far back as the 1960s that have studied hearing loss and coronary heart disease.  Samuel Rosen and Pekka Olin working out of The Mount Sinai Hospital and New York Eye and Ear Infirmary published an article entitled Hearing Loss and Coronary Heart Disease. They studied members of the Mabaan tribe in southeast Sudan and compared them to Americans in industrial areas of the United States.  Diet and stress in America were compared to the simple life and diet of the Mabaan tribe and their quiet surroundings.

In 2014 Dr. Frank Lin, M.D. Ph.D published an article Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss.  In this article, Dr. Lin discussed the link between dementia and “fast-track” brain shrinkage in older adults.  

According to the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org), hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is  in those who don’t have the disease.  With 86 million adults in the U.S. who have pre-diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than those with normal blood glucose.  Still, the connection remains unknown.

In a WEBMD article penned by Kathleen Doheny, hearing loss is associated with depression in American adults, especially women and in both sexes younger than age 70.

If that isn’t enough, some statin drug studies have implied a possible connection between hearing loss and using the drugs.  Some diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide are suspected of increasing the chances of diabetes as well as one beta blocker drug.  So the new question would be, is there also a prescription drug connection to inducing these conditions and/or hearing loss? Either way, these drugs are often life-saving solutions to an immediate and bigger danger.

So what can we do to be proactive?

  1.  It seems the same healthy diet for heart disease, diabetes and other conditions is prescribed for overall health.  What role does sugar, salt, unhealthy fats play in hearing loss and other conditions?  There are many books out there that discuss these conditions and optimum health.  Some of my favorite ones are by Dr. Andrew Weil (drweil.com), Dr. Mark Hyman (drhyman.com), Dr. Dean Ornish (www.deanornish.com), Dr. David Perlmutter (drperlmutter.com) and Dr. William Davis (wheatbellyblog.com).  Mark Bittman (markbittman.com) has written some good cookbooks with healthy recipes.
  2. Get a complete physical.  
  3. Exercise not only keeps the arteries healthy, it helps to move glucose into the right places and out of your body.  In addition, it has been shown to improve mood and lessen depression.
  4. Meditate.  Find a quiet place after a busy day.  This may seem odd to say as choosing amplification over silence is theoretically one of the best ways to keep an active and healthy brain.  But at the end of the day, amplification can be tiring as anyone with either hearing aids or cochlear implants will tell you. Controlling stress is equally important.
  5. Stay connected.  We are so lucky to be living at a time when there are captioned phones, captioned TVs, amplifying and flashing devices, captioned Broadway shows and movies, amplifying devices in museums and state-of-the art accessories for both hearing aid and cochlear implant users.
  6. Take a chance.  Try something new.  Be an active participant in your own story. Keep a journal.  Read good books that inspire you to be your best you.
  7. Join an advocacy group such as Hearing Loss Association of America, (hearingloss.org), or Association of Late-Deafened Adults (www.alda.org) or Say What Club (saywhatclub.com).
  8. Get a dog.  Some preliminary studies have shown having a dog can affect blood pressure positively, improve mood and overall well being.  You might want to look into getting a service dog with Canine Companions for Independence (www.cci.org) or Dogs for the Deaf  (www.dogsforthedeaf.org).
  9.  Don’t get discouraged.  People with hearing loss have the same needs as those who don’t, — family connections and positive interpersonal relationships, good friends, good times, respect in the workplace and last but not least, a good belly laugh.  Find a reason to laugh every single day.

The best way we can use this information connecting these conditions to hearing loss is to consider it a heads up and do everything we can to prevent or control these conditions and be positive.