As a former editor for the New York Times, Katherine Bouton is no stranger to telling a difficult story.
But perhaps the most difficult story she’s ever had to convey is the one she penned herself decades after suddenly losing her hearing in one ear.
In Bouton’s debut memoir Shouting Won’t Help: Why I – and 50 Million Other Americans – Can’t Hear You, she chronicles the difficulties she faced when learning to not only understand her hearing loss, but to accept it.
“The hardest part was living a lie; pretending to be a hearing person when I wasn’t,” Bouton said. “I had always been sociable and confident, but when it got to the point that I couldn’t hear what was said, I stopped participating in conversations, dodged events, gatherings and meetings whenever I could.”
Despite getting hearing aids in her fifties and a cochlear implant in her sixties, the damage was already done. Bouton was suffering from profound bilateral deafness and implants only partially helped her hearing loss.
“In my early sixties I hit rock bottom. I lost my job, my hearing, my sense of humor; I had lost my sense of self,” said Bouton.
In conjunction with the release of her book and in part with Better Hearing Month, Bouton hopes others will be proactive in seeking treatment for their hearing loss.
“My hearing loss in my forties and early fifties, untreated, probably affected my career and my chances of advancement. It also affected my friendships. When I got my cochlear implant I essentially had no working hearing in that ear for almost 30 years. That makes it much harder to adapt to the implant,” Bouton said. “Protect your hearing. Our environment is deliberately and dangerously loud.”
In addition to the importance of protecting your hearing, Bouton wishes she could remove the stigma that hearing loss only affects older individuals.
“It’s a false perception. There are a lot of older people with hearing loss, but most of them had it before they were old,” said Bouton. “Not everyone with hearing loss needs hearing aids, but many who do need hearing aids – six out of seven people – don’t get them. Don’t be one of those.”
Bouton struggled privately with her hearing loss for years, allowing it to almost destroy her personal and professional lives. Bouton hopes Shouting Won’t Help will give others the confidence they need to speak more freely about their loss.
“If you have hearing loss, acknowledge it, let people know how many of us there are,” Bouton said. “The more we talk about hearing loss opening and publicly, the less of a stigma there will be.”
Bouton recognizes the advancements we’ve made with hearing aids, but that they cannot replace normal hearing in every situation. According to her, prevention is the key to battling hearing loss in the future.
“Prevention is a matter of public education. We need to lower the decibel level in public place,” Bouton said. “We need to wear hearing protection when we’re in noisy environments.”
Bouton suffered in silence for years, but you don’t have to. Take the pledge on our site to have your hearing tested and start your healthy hearing initiative today.
Already signed the pledge? May 12-18 is National Women’s Health Week. Encourage an important woman in your life to have her hearing tested. Talking with loved ones about hearing loss can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be.
Want your own copy of Shouting Won’t Help? Visit Healthy Hearing’s Facebook and answer a simple question: What do you think is the most damaging stigma tied to hearing loss?