Hearing the crisp drive of a well-struck golf ball or the sound of freshly cut grass softly crunching beneath your feet, these are just some of the things he’d been missing.
Tony Parsons, the former TV news anchor welcomed into homes around the province for decades, suffers from hearing loss.
“The chirping of the birds in the morning, running water, grass under my feet, all things that were then peripheral and I sort of was in denial as so many people are at my age,” Parsons said. “My excuse was, especially with my wife was that you mumble, and I don’t understand that.”
For possibly the past 10 years, Parsons went undiagnosed with his condition and it wasn’t until he was approached by NexGen Hearing to be its spokesperson that his life changed.
“I said ‘yes,’ but my suggestion to them was that I don’t know anything about hearing loss because I have perfect hearing so how can I help you if I don’t know what I am talking about,” he explained.
“So, they suggested I take a hearing test and I did. I went to NexGen in Kelowna and Colin VanBergen, who is an audiologist, gave me a test and we discovered much to my dismay that I did have hearing loss, especially in the right ear.”
Audiologist Colin VanBergen said Parsons suffers from significant high-frequency hearing loss in one ear.
“High-frequency hearing loss means he is still hearing a lot of sounds that we might hear but there is a lot of sounds that he is missing — he might not hear birds chirping or blowing of a whistle.”
While low-frequency hearing loss means it is difficult to hear frequencies that are deeper or low-pitched sounds.
“When we are talking about speech information and people’s ability to understand what others are saying we have some of the speech sounds in the low frequencies, such as the vowel sounds, the ‘M,’ the ‘B,’ the ‘R,’” explained VanBergen.
Parsons was tested and fitted for hearing aids, something he had previously thought he did not need.
“The one thing about having the hearing aids is my wife doesn’t mumble anymore, it’s become a bit of a joke,” he laughed.
While Parsons wears glasses and regularly gets his eyes checked, he didn’t believe his hearing was something he should also look into.
“With hearing you become used to the idea that things are getting quieter and not quite as understandable because it’s a gradual process. So I think if you have any hint of a hearing loss you should go get it looked at. It doesn’t mean you are going to end up wearing hearing aids like me,” he said.
Besides the obvious dangers around hearing loss, such as not hearing a car honking to let you know its coming, or an ambulance siren so you can get out of the way, VanBergen says there are other factors too.
From depression after withdrawing from social situations as people are unable to participate due to hearing loss, to the emotional toll it can take on someone who is unable to communicate with loved ones.
“The big one, however, is dementia,” he said. “People who have mild to severe hearing loss are at an increased risk of dementia anywhere from two to five times. The research right now is a correlational study because we can’t say the hearing loss is causing dementia but we can say they are strongly associated.”
Hearing aids have also progressed in recent year; the hearing aids that Parsons wears took 10 years to develop and the company who produces it spent more than $100 million on designing the processes, which VanBergen says makes the technology incredible.
The one downside to hearing aids for Parsons is that his dog Morley enjoys it much more as a chew toy than its actual purpose.
“It’s because of the odour of the wax in your ear that the dog loves, because it’s your odour, and he just thought it was fun to chew it up.”
Hearing tests are free at NexGen clinics and take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to perform. For those wanting to test the hearing at home an online test is available at nexgenhearing.com and can determine if a professional consultation might benefit you.