Like most changes, it was gradual – a missed word or two in a conversation, a puzzled look from a friend when a reply apparently didn't match the question asked. Before Curt Crouch knew it, he had unknowingly become withdrawn. He couldn't hear enough of what was going on to confidently socialize with those he cared about in unfavorable environments.
After three years, Crouch's wife pointed out that he had developed a tendency to "fade to the back" when they were out to dinner.
"I really couldn't tell what was going on [at dinner]," Crouch said. "There was so much noise around me that I just couldn't hear. So I'd kind of check out."
Fortunately, Crouch's wife had some audiology connections. She reached out to her colleagues, and the family was referred to Leisha Eiten, Audiologist at Boys Town National Research Hospital.
After conducting a full hearing test, Eiten discovered that Crouch had high frequency hearing loss, which limited his ability to hear in noisy places or when sounds were above a certain pitch. She fitted Crouch for hearing aids, and the moment they came on, Crouch realized that he had become used to a lackluster life. His wife recounts that he looked like a little kid at Christmas.
"She told me, 'Your face lit up and you smiled like you haven't before,'" Crouch said. "It was little things like paper ruffling or Leisha typing on the keyboard. I thought to myself, I haven't heard that for so long. It was very exciting."
Studies show that untreated hearing loss can negatively affect an individual's quality of life. Someone who is losing their hearing may experience loneliness, decline in social activity and reduced self-esteem.
Sadly, Crouch felt these effects before getting his hearing tested. He remembers attending holiday gatherings and feeling as if he was missing out on something.
"Before [my hearing aids], I'd sit on one end of the table, and I didn't hear anything but the first one or two people next to me – and we usually have 20-30 people," he said. "I missed everything that happened farther down the table. Now I can hear everything that goes on."
And when Crouch says everything, he means everything! One of the features of his hearing aids allows him to use his phone as a microphone. Now he can put his phone down at the opposite end of the table, and the conversation there is routed directly to his ears via Bluetooth. He uses this communication technique that Eiten taught him at meetings and, of course, when spending time with his family over the holidays.
As a result of his improved communication, Crouch is reconnecting with loved ones and seeing his relationships grow. He feels comfortable catching up with friends, regardless of how noisy the room is, and going out with his wife to get dinner or meet with friends. He no longer notices side conversations taking place without him at social events.
"It's nice to be part of the whole activity during the holidays when there are lots of people around," he said. "Life is just so much better when you can be a part of it."
If this experience sounds all too familiar, Crouch has some advice for you: Get your hearing checked.
"Do not wait," he said. "I hesitated for too many years. You can't get that time back – you've missed it. So just go do it. It's so easy, and they are so nice at Boys Town Hospital."
If you or a loved one is concerned about your hearing, call (531) 355-6540 to schedule a hearing check with a Boys Town audiologist.