PATASKALA – When Donald Stump got his first cochlear implant, he decided to attend a concert at Denison University.
Hearing the depth of the music for the first time in decades brought tears to his eyes.
He still has those moments when he hears a sound he hasn’t heard in many years.
“My life has changed so much since I’ve had my implant,” he said. “I hear sounds I’ve probably never heard in my life.”
Stump, 69, knows that his choice to have an implant — which bypasses the damaged parts of the ear to send sound signals to the brain — was a personal one.
But over the last few years, the Pataskala man has tried to serve as a mentor for other older adults in central Ohio who are considering the procedure.
“There are all kinds of options, you just have to take the first step,” he said. “There’s no age limit.”
Stump, who grew up in Columbus, began noticing his hearing loss when he was a young man serving in the Navy.
But he figured out ways to work around it. He read lips, asked people to repeat themselves or just let some things slip by him.
His father and uncle also had hearing issues, but for a while it was easier to deny anything was happening.
“It’s a denial process,” he said. “You think, ‘It’s not me. Just turn the radio up, turn the TV up.'”
At age 30, he got his first pair of hearing aids — which make sounds louder — and wore them for 20 years.
But in 2009, he began going to the Ohio State University Medical Center’s Eye and Ear Institute. Doctors performed a hearing test and found his hearing loss was greater than 56 percent.
After a rigorous screening process, doctors recommended him as a candidate for a cochlear implant.
At first, Stump was apprehensive about the procedure, which includes a surgery to place the implant into the brain.
There is also some controversy surrounding the device in the deaf community. Some see it as a challenge to deaf culture.
But Stump knew that for him, there were some sounds he wasn’t hearing even with his hearing aids, and he wanted to change that.
“(Hearing loss) affects your whole life and your family too,” he said. “I’d never go out with a group for lunch because they’d be laughing at a joke and I didn’t hear it. It was uncomfortable.”
The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that approximately 48 million Americans report having some degree of hearing loss and one out of three adults who are 65 or older, have hearing loss.
Cochlear implants aren’t for everyone but people don’t realize that many adults can use them, he said.
“It’s a procedure becoming more common, it’s changing today,” Stump said.
Some adults with cochlear implants struggle to adjust to the device but for Stump, things went smoothly.
“Hearing aids just improved the hearing I had,” he said. “Nothing can replace normal hearing, but an implant can give you a better spectrum of sounds.”
Since he had such a positive experience, he was approached by the manufacturer of his implant to participate in Cochlear Community Connection, a program that helps people considering getting an implant, or those who have recently received one.
He’s talked one on one with people and attended meetings. He’s also participated in research at the Eye and Ear Institute.
Even when he’s out with his family, he never hesitates to talk about his implant and the benefits he’s experienced.
“You’d be surprised by the number of people who come up to me in public and ask me questions,” he said. “I don’t mind talking about it, I’m very open to it. We want to let people know, there is help out there.”
No matter what options they choose, Stump’s biggest message to adults with hearing loss is that they don’t have to suffer in silence.
About 22,000 seniors in the central Ohio region experience hearing loss and only about 20 percent of them seek treatment, according to the manufacturer Cochlear.
Studies have shown hearing loss can affect a person’s overall health, leading to diminished cognitive function, poor mental health, social withdrawal, depression, anxiety and a higher risk of developing dementia. It can also be incredibly isolating, Stump said.
Any adult who thinks they might have hearing loss should speak to their doctor and reach out to a qualified audiologist for help, he said.
“There is hope and it’s not as hard as you think,” he said. “My only regret is, I wish I had done this 50 years ago.”
Signs of hearing loss
- Your family members say that you turn the volume on the television or radio too loud.
- You ask others for repetition often.
- You have difficulty hearing when there is noise in the background or in large groups of people.
- You experience difficulty when talking on the telephone.
- You hear conversation but are having difficulty understanding.
- You have ringing or buzzing in your ears
Source: Ohio State University Medical Center