Have hearing loss? Group offers help with daily living
By Karen Smith, MIRROR STAFF WRITER
Editor: Here’s a nice article about the Hearing Loss Association of Michigan. It also includes some good perspectives on what it’s like to have hearing loss.
This article originally appeared in the Observer & Eccentric and Mirror newspapers, and is reprinted with their kind permission.
Patty Frenkel of Huntington Woods started losing her hearing at age 32 from a combination of stress and heredity factors.
“I couldn’t talk on the phone, I couldn’t go to the movies, I didn’t socialize,” said the mother of three, who stopped working as a registered nurse because she was concerned she’d miss hearing a doctor’s order.
“When you have hearing loss, you feel so isolated because you can’t communicate.”
Frenkel wishes she had known then about the Hearing Loss Association of Michigan support group that meets at First Presbyterian Church of Royal Oak.
“It just makes you realize you are not alone,” she said of the 15 to 25 individuals with varying degrees of hearing loss who meet regularly to share coping strategies and information about new adaptive equipment.
SPREADING THE WORD
Frenkel said the group, which she joined about three years ago and now co-chairs, has been such a help to her and the other members they want to let others know about it. According to a Centers for Disease Control study, one in 10 Americans has hearing loss.
Barb Quart of Bloomfield Township, who was born deaf and has been attending the support group for five years, said the group is like a “rap session.
“We may have a speaker or share war stories, problems at work (like the) boss not being sympathetic.”
At a recent meeting, Royal Oak Police Officer Mike Frazier talked, among other things, about what those with a hearing impairment should do when making a 9-1-1 call and they can’t hear the dispatcher on the other end.
“Say, ‘I’m hearing impaired and I can’t hear you’ but state the problem. Say it over and over,” Frazier said, also advising them to keep the line open and give their location if they’re using a cell phone.
The police will respond to a 9-1-1 call even if no one says anything, he said, but knowing whether it’s a medical emergency, an intruder or other problem helps them know how to respond.
Those with hearing impairments should let any officer who pulls them over know right away they can’t hear so the officer doesn’t think they’re ignoring their commands, Frazier said. “It’s probably a good way to get out of a ticket,” he joked, saying the officer may not want to take the time to write everything down.
Eunice Bitzer of Royal Oak, who’s been attending the support group since it started 10 years ago, said if there’s one thing she’s learned, it’s to tell people upfront she’s hearing impaired so they know to look directly at her while speaking so she can read their lips.
She said she used to apologize to store clerks and other strangers, but doesn’t anymore, adding being hearing impaired has made her more assertive. “We have an obligation (to tell people),” Bitzer said. “It’s the invisible affliction.”
The local support group was started by Caroline Caughell of Royal Oak, who was elected president of the Hearing Loss Association of Michigan in January after serving eight years as secretary and then vice president.
Caughell lost all her hearing in one ear and some in the other during infancy from two near-fatal illnesses. “I grew up the only hard-of-hearing person in my family and always felt something was missing,” she said. “I read about the chapters (in a journal published by the Hearing Loss Association of America) and decided it was time to have one in Royal Oak,” she said.
Being with other people who understood her frustrations was a relief, she said. “Everybody understands fully. Nobody laughs at you because you didn’t hear something; nobody frowns at you and says ‘Oh, never mind.’
“I can honestly say that I’ve blossomed,” said the self-proclaimed introvert, adding she never dreamed she’d become president of a statewide organization.
The organization’s local fund-raiser, a 5K walk, will be May 3 at Kensington Metropark in Milford.
Frenkel, now 54, heard about the support group while training to become a volunteer advocate for cochlear implants after receiving one herself in 2004.
The implant enables her to hear well enough to teach nursing now at St. Clair County Community College.
But the support group has helped her with daily living and her feelings of isolation. “I have found it very beneficial to know that you’re not the only one,”