Eating whilst deaf

Copyright: bbbar / 123RF Stock Photo

I probably wouldn’t be big on eating out even if my hearing was good (I love to cook) but meals out when you can’t hear certainly have their challenges.

Problem one – Busy, noisy pubs, restaurants and cafes with lots of hard surfaces for the sound to bounce off (tiled floors, tables without table cloths, windows without curtains).  It’s hard to believe the difference that soft furnishings make to speech comprehension if you have hearing loss, but it’s true.  They absorb a lot of the clatter and make speech much easier to understand.  Open plan restaurant kitchens are a particular disaster – all that rattling of pots and pans and the shriek of the coffee machines.  I’m picturing Pizza Express as I write this.  I like Pizza Express, but the acoustics can be terrible.  Continue reading


You can’t be a shrinking violet

Copyright: juliatim / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: juliatim / 123RF Stock Photo

Since October I’ve been attending an excellent class on Art and Architecture, run by my local University of the Third Age.  The tutor, Ian, a retired university lecturer, is knowledgeable and entertaining.  A group of about twenty of us meet in a local village hall.  It’s great fun, and I’m starting to be able to tell my Baroque from my Bauhaus. (I was starting from a very low base).

About a week ago we had a morning in Leeds, looking at some of the wonderful buildings there.  Leeds city centre is a great place – very vibrant and very little affected by the sixties shopping centre monstrosities that are such a blot on the landscape in other towns.  It’s well worth a visit.   Ian pointed out to us lots of things I’d not noticed before and I had a lovely time.

It did, though, make me aware (again) that you can’t be a shrinking violet if you want to enjoy this sort of thing when you are deaf. Continue reading

Walking with Roger

After a summer of knee problems (Nigel’s) he and I have returned to the fells.  Fell walking is something we both love and there are lots of excellent opportunities within reach.  The Lake District is our favourite place and we’ve managed to fit in three trips in recent weeks.

Of course, out came the Roger pen, on its first fell walking trial.  At first I had a bit of a panic.  We were putting our boots on at the car – Nigel at the back and me at the front passenger side – when I heard this really loud breathing.  I mean REALLY loud breathing – haaargh, haargh, haargh.  Had he been taken ill?   “Are you OK?” I called out, hopping (one boot on, one boot off) round to the back of the car.  Continue reading

Roger pen: chapter three

In the last two posts I’ve been talking about my experiments with a Roger pen – trying it out whilst driving, being a passenger in a car, and eating out.  The next thing I tried was the television.

Watching the television doesn’t, in fact, normally cause me any problems – I just use the subtitles.  But subtitling doesn’t work for me if it is a live programme rather than a pre-recorded one, because simultaneous captioning is still pretty poor.  So I don’t usually watch the news on TV, for example, I follow it on an iPad instead.

I do like the occasional sports programme – athletics mainly – but that can be a struggle.  To know what’s happening I need the live captioning (no matter how awful) but the pesky subtitles always seem to be just where the action is.  Mo Farah is surging down the back strait, being hotly challenged by the Kenyans, will he do it????  Well, who knows – because all you see are the incomprehensible captions with little figures running behind them.  This is even more of an irritation for Nigel, who can hear perfectly well but now he can’t see the race.

I gave the Roger pen a go.  It works with a TV by being plugged directly into the headphones socket.  I put the receiver round my neck, go into loop mode and the sound goes directly from the television into my hearing aids.

I tried the BBC News.  Sometimes I DO watch the news, if there is some breaking event of great importance (there have been a few of those in the UK recently……).  I would normally have the live captioning activated, and alternate between trying to make some sense of that and lip reading when the newscaster or person being interviewed features prominently on the screen.  This time I left the subtitles off, to see what happened.  The Roger pen worked well for the situations where I could lip read as well as hear – I understood more and with less concentration involved.  But I couldn’t make any more sense of the off-screen speech than I normally do.  Perhaps some more sounds were getting through (?) but not enough to make a difference.

I tried watching some football but the pen didn’t help with the commentary.  It’s not really surprising.  A situation where someone is talking rapidly and excitedly off-screen was always going to be a big ask.

Overall, then, for the Roger pen and television?  I’ll keep on relying on subtitles whenever I can.  Perhaps the pen will come into play (with the subtitles on) when I want to watch a news programme.

The whole process of experimentation so far has lead me to think quite a lot about how I understand speech.  I was very sceptical that the Roger pen would be of any help because I know how much I rely on lip reading.  What I hadn’t factored in, in my scepticism, was that the device’s impact on what I hear would make such a difference WHEN I am able to lip read at the same time.  Does that makes sense?  The Roger pen isn’t improving the amount of speech information my brain is receiving sufficiently to understand conversation just by listening, but WHEN I CAN LIP READ AS WELL it can make comprehension significantly easier, especially in background noise.

So where does that leave things?  Nigel and I sat down to talk about our various Roger pen trials.

We’d already decided that the pen isn’t going back.  The 28-day sale or return period is almost over and Roger is a keeper, as the clothing websites say.  We got into a general conversation about the benefits and….well….I’ll let Nigel speak for himself.  Here he is…..

“For me, there were big benefits when we were eating out and when we were driving somewhere together.  When we were eating out in the pubs in Suffolk, you could hear most of the conversation and we had a much better time than we would have done previously.  A key part of going out for a meal is to talk.  When you can’t comfortably do that it rather defeats the object of being there.  In the car, when I was driving, we were having a pretty normal conversation, for the first time in a long while.  You weren’t hearing everything and I don’t think we could have had a very detailed conversation, but it was massively better.  Previously we had been limited to shouted bits of essential information – “do you need something to eat?” or “I’m stopping for petrol”.  When you were driving things were a bit better, but not so much – I think we’ll stick to you being the passenger!”

He went on, “but there’s something more important than just how much help the Roger pen makes in different situations.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  For both of us, the loss of your hearing has created barriers to communication.  It’s hard not to be able to say things to you whenever I want to and I feel the loss of that keenly.  Anything that gives us back some spontaneity in our communication is so important, so thank you Roger pen.”

So, if you are reading this and thinking a Roger pen (or one of the other listening devices on the market) might help you, I’d say definitely give it a go.  Nigel and I will carry on experimenting, but after three Roger pen posts in a row probably time to move on to something else now……

Speak to you soon.


Roger pen: chapter two

Last week’s blog described my success in using a Roger pen to talk with my husband in the car, when he is driving.

We had driven down to Suffolk for a few days and had a lovely time – visiting Aldeburgh (the scene of several wedding anniversary visits when we were first married), going to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere (we were bird watchers before we had a dog) and generally pottering about.  Pottering because the whole reason for this visit was that Nigel had hurt his knee, which had meant the cancellation of a fell walking trip to Wales.  So there was plenty of opportunity to try out the Roger pen.

After driving, the next big test was eating out.  We don’t go out to eat very often, mainly because I love to cook.  When we do it can be a bit of a challenge because how enjoyable the experience is depends on the venue.  We are pub food eaters, in the main, rather than restaurant people and pubs can be noisy places.  Sometimes when the tables are very close together, and there are a lot of people eating, and the noise levels are high, eating out stops being an enjoyable experience and becomes a trial of hearing and lip reading skills.

So off to a local pub on the first night and out came the Roger pen.  The room was fairly noisy and the table quite wide.

(I need to explain about table width.  Normally, if we eat out there will be a bit of a discussion about where I should sit and where other people should sit.  If it’s just Nigel and me I like him either opposite me if the table is fairly narrow, or at 90 degrees if it isn’t – so he is close enough to maximise what I can hear.  The way this room was configured the 90 degree option wasn’t possible).

So – back to the story.  There we sat waiting for the order and out came the Roger pen.  It helped massively.  I tried it on both my two loop settings and fiddled about with the receiver volume, ending up with the loop on the setting that includes general noise and the volume quite high.  It still felt like sitting in a noisy pub but with Nigel’s voice coming through loud and clear.  Amazing.  I can see him, I can lip read, I can hear him through the noise and – I used this expression last week – I could feel myself relax.  The sensation was really noticeable.  It brought home just how much of an effort is normally involved in sitting in a pub having a meal.  It’s b****** hard work this hearing loss business.

If we had a problem it was that I started talking too loudly.  People have told me before that I do this sometimes and I can see why it would happen.  I misjudge the volume of something I don’t hear properly.  Perhaps the situation was exacerbated because the microphone was with Nigel and a fair distance away from me. However, the problem was solved with Nigel surreptitiously making hand flapping signs (down, girl, down) if he thought I was getting too shouty.  Success.  We had a lovely time.

Over the four nights we ate at four different places, using the Roger pen successfully in all of them.

When we came home, the next test was to use the pen with me driving and Nigel the passenger.  This is a much bigger test than when Nigel is driving or when we are eating out because of me not being able to lip read at the same time.  As I said last week, nowadays I tell people that I can’t talk at all when I’m driving.

We got in the car and set off on a quick test trip from the house.  I stopped a couple of times to begin with, to try different settings and make volume adjustments. Then, driving along, I said “OK, I think I’ll just take the road to (the next village)”.  Nigel responded “why don’t you go to (a different village) and then circle round that way”.

I understood him.  I would stop short of saying I heard him but sounds got through and I made sense of them.  There was context (local village names) and guesswork, but I got there.

On we went, with Nigel sporadically saying (brief) things.  Sometimes I worked out what it was he was saying (roughly, not every word), sometimes I couldn’t.  But when I couldn’t I generally got the gist of it the second time.  As I said a moment ago, it wasn’t exactly hearing, I was still doing a lot of figuring out, but the sounds that were getting through were giving me a head start in that process.  Nigel declared it a much improved experience.

One of the comments on last week’s post, from Lizzie, reminded me to point out that the Roger pen can sometimes be paid for as part of the UK’s Access to Work programme (AtW), if it is decided that the person applying needs the help of the pen to function in the workplace.  Now six years retired, I had forgotten all about AtW.  They had funded my first digital hearing aids, years ago, when the NHS decided I needed digital aids but they were too new to be available from the NHS directly.  You can read more about AtW on the Disability Rights Uk  website.  So thank you Lizzie for the reminder.

Someone else has asked how big the Roger pen is.  Here it is.


I’m still testing Roger in other situations.  Next time – “watching the television” and “general chitchat in the house”………..







The driving deaf


For obvious reasons, I can’t lip read if I’m driving. I can lip read moderately well from the front passenger seat, if I peer at the side of the driver’s face. But this only works if the road noise isn’t too loud (so it doesn’t mask my remaining hearing) and I can bear to take my eyes off the road (I’m a terrible back seat driver, especially from the front passenger seat). So it’s a bit of a problem.
It was hard even when my hearing is a lot better than it is now. Before I retired one colleague once told me that her mother had made her promise not to travel with me again, after hearing that I was turning my head to look at her when I was driving. I don’t blame her (and I promise I don’t do it now). Another time I was giving a different colleague a lift back to the office, through a part of Bradford I didn’t know very well. Majid (a lovely, quietly spoken young man) offered to direct me and we set off. All went well for a while until there was something I couldn’t decipher. “Hang on, Majid” I said. “I didn’t catch that – wait until we get to the lights and I can stop”. Luckily the lights were on red and I turned to look at him. “Sorry, what did you say?” “You’ve gone the wrong way” he said. We both saw the funny side, as did the rest of the office when we eventually got back there.
These days, if I am giving someone a lift, I tell them very firmly that I can’t talk when I’m driving – but it doesn’t make for very convivial journeys. It also means that, if my husband and I are going somewhere together, he always ends up doing all the driving, which doesn’t seem fair.
Some months ago, in an attempt to find a solution to this, I borrowed a special microphone that was loaned to me by a friend with hearing loss. It is another of the many gadgets aimed at helping deaf people and works by feeding sound directly from a hand held microphone into your hearing aids’ loop setting. My friend had used it successfully when her children were small, so that they could talk to their mum, using the microphone, from the back seat. But it didn’t work for me.
The initial problem was that the only loop setting installed on my hearing aids was the type where sound other than the direct feed (via the loop) is cut out. That is exactly what you need for listening to a speaker in a public meeting, but it wasn’t suitable for driving. I need to hear the other road noise, or how will I know that an ambulance is fast approaching with its sirens going? So, off to the audiology department to have an additional loop setting activated, which doesn’t cut out general sound. So far so good, thanks to the very helpful staff at my local hospital. However, I then found I was getting terrible interference from the car. I could have lived with the strange sound whenever I pressed the brake pedal, but the incredibly loud whine when I turned on the car headlights was a killer. Why it didn’t affect my friend’s hearing aids but did mine remains a mystery.
But there is other technology out there so I decided to try something else. People had recommended a Roger pen (strange name….I know). It is described as an all-inclusive wireless microphone, offering better speech understanding in noise and over distance. Sounded good. The drawback is the price, which at £550 made me take a sharp intake of breath and shelve the idea. Given how poor my hearing is now, I also doubted I would get much benefit. But as my husband pointed out, it was available on a 28 day sale or return basis from Action on Hearing Loss, so surely I should at least give it a try? Given that he suffers at least as much from my deafness as I do I eventually decided he was right. The credit card came out and a large box duly arrived. There was a bit of a hiccup because not all the necessary parts for the charger had been included but a week later we were all set for the test run.
What I had bought was the “pen”, a microphone designed to look like a pen, which can be pointed at someone like a hand held microphone, placed on a table to pick up sound from people seated round it, or hung on a lanyard round someone’s neck (the person you want to hear). Then there is a receiver. I bought the simplest variety, the MyLink. It hangs round my neck, like a pendant, and feeds sound from the microphone directly into my hearing aids, via the loop setting.
We switched on, Nigel took the pen into the living room and I stayed in the kitchen shouting out “OK, say something”. “I’m in the living room with Izzy”, he said, and I heard it. Not perfectly (the brain had to do a bit of work) but he said words and I correctly deciphered them. This is nothing short of miraculous, for someone who is normally almost completely reliant on lip reading. “I’m looking at the log basket”, he said. I got it. I couldn’t decipher the next one – it was “oh ye of little faith” – but he had a point.
So we tried it in the car, with Nigel driving, on a long journey from Yorkshire to Suffolk. I said at the start of this post that I can lip read a car driver moderately well from the front passenger seat, and that’s true. However, in real life the effort to communicate on a long journey becomes too much after a while, for both of us. It’s just too tiring.
But with the Roger pen helping my hearing AND lip reading at the same time we did just fine. We could talk (and understand each other). There was very mild interference from the car (I heard a quiet electronic noise when he had his foot on the brake pedal) but nothing that wasn’t easy to ignore. After much fiddling about with the loop settings on my hearing aids (eventually I left it on the one that cuts out background noise) and the volume settings on the receiver I arrived at a point where I could feel myself relaxing. Instead of restricting conversation to shouted essentials I could, well, talk to my husband. Not as easily as if we were sat opposite each other in the house but without too much difficulty. To someone with good hearing this probably sounds deeply unexciting but for me, believe me, it is revolutionary.
So it was thumbs up for the Roger pen after the first test. Other test results (“in the restaurant”, “me driving”) will have to wait for another post. Meanwhile, do you have any Roger pen experiences?? I’d love to hear about them.

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