Losing her hearing was upsetting for Vera Brearey.
“Forty years of steadily deteriorating hearing ended up taking me to a very dark place, with husband communication problems top of the list,” explains Vera, 65, from Thornton-in-Craven.
“We could communicate about essential things – we’d get in a quiet place, look at each other, I’d ask for repeats if needs be – but everyday chatter had gone.
“Life lost most of its lightheartedness. Mealtimes were agonies of loneliness; eating and lip reading don’t go well together.”
And so a year ago Vera received a cochlear implant at Bradford Royal Infirmary.
A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals to the brain.
“The best thing about it? I can hear my husband again,” says Vera a year after the life-changing surgery.
“Within a few weeks of switch-on I was catching most of the jokes again. We sit and chat over supper. Nigel can fling out a quick comment, out of the blue, and most times I’ll understand him. We are together again.”
Vera’s journey from hearing loss to having her cochlear implant turned on has been captured in a video, aimed at showing the benefits of the surgery.
She spent nearly two years getting involved in a hearing experiment to track the challenges of hearing loss and to share the life-changing impact of a cochlear implant. The moving video content is now the centrepiece in a global awareness campaign.
Vera wants to make a difference by helping older adults who are going through a similar situation and raising awareness of the substantial impact that hearing loss can have on the lives of people in the UK.
She started to lose her hearing in her 20s and it steadily declined over the years.
“At first it didn’t really affect me much. I could still understand speech, but I was told it would get much worse over time and that’s what happened.”
Eventually she got hearing aids when she started to be aware that she was struggling to hear people if they weren’t looking at her.
Conventional hearing aids helped her for a number of years, but a couple of years ago it became clear that the deterioration in her hearing could not be helped by this method much longer.
“It was quite clear that it wasn’t the hearing aid that was a the problem, something had changed about my hearing and there was going to have to a be a different answer.”
Then a bout of flu saw her hearing disappear altogether.
“I thought ‘this is it, this is when I lose my hearing for good’.”
Although it did start to return, it was never what it was and Vera realised she had to do something.
The video, which is in three parts, shows just how isolated Vera became even in a group of friends and family.
“It’s been particularly upsetting with my husband, because Nigel is a very funny person, he likes the quick quip, he likes a bit of banter, he likes a joke and I can’t follow that any more. I just can’t do it, so he can’t be like that with me. It’s as hard on him as it is with me,” she recalls.
“One night we went out to eat in the evening with some friends… the four of us were sat round and suddenly some conversation actually started that I wasn’t able to follow and it was obviously very funny because comments were going back and forth and people were laughing, and Nigel was laughing loudly and taking a big part in it, and I was just watching… and I watched my husband and I thought ‘that’s who he is, that’s my husband, but he can’t be like that with me’. And that’s very upsetting.”
Nigel has also said that he too felt a huge sense of loss in not being able to have a spontaneous conversation with his wife.
“It is incredibly emotional for us,” he says. “I cry. If you know something that can help you that’s coming along you can keep going, but if you feel it is just going to get worse and there’s nothing within reach it becomes too difficult.”
However, something was within reach and when doctors told Vera a cochlear implant may help, she jumped at the chance.
“I was nervous, of course,” she says. “But excited as well.”
The film show Vera pre- and post-op and then when the device is actually switched.
It did take a while for her to adjust to the new sounds she could hear through the processor implanted in her head but now she says it has changed her life.
Whereas before the implant the only respite she got from her nightmare was to walk her dog Issy, as Issy never expected her to talk or listen, she has now renewed interest in old hobbies that she’d had to abandon due to her hearing loss.
“I’ve got my hobbies back. I’m big fan of local history and archaeology; now I can go to lectures and hear them easily, even without a loop if it’s not a huge room.
“I can sit and chat with friends in busy cafes. I can sometimes hear the announcements on trains. I can listen to the radio on long car journeys.
“Yesterday, walking with my dog on the moors above my house, I heard a sound, recognised it as a skylark, looked up and there it was – I haven’t heard birdsong since my late 20s.”