The hearing loss came gradually for 69-year-old retired welder Lim Koh Beng. As it deteriorated progressively over an eight-year period, it put a strain on his marriage and caused him to withdraw socially.
"I did not realise I spoke much louder than I did before because I could not hear myself," he says in Mandarin. "My wife would get angry as she thought I was shouting at her. I mistook her for being over-sensitive and unreasonable."
Worried about cost, he put off getting treatment until 2016, when his wife's relative urged him to visit the Mobile Hearing Clinic (MHC).
The MHC was launched in February 2016 by the National University Hospital's (NUH) Department of Otolaryngology (ENT) - Head and Neck Surgery. It offers diagnostic hearing tests and hearing aid services.
In September 2016, Mr Lim had his hearing tested by an audiologist. He was recommended to have hearing aids fitted and further evaluated to assess the type of hearing aids suitable for him. By mid-December that year, he was fitted with the aids.
Follow-up sessions with the audiologist fine-tuned his hearing aids and he was taught how to handle and care for the devices too.
Mr Lim says: "The hearing aids released me from my prison of silence. I had felt so alone and cut off from the world when I could not hear well and could not communicate easily with my wife or friends."
He realises that earlier treatment could have spared him much of the difficulties he encountered. His hearing loss began with his right ear but, over time, both ears were affected. Usually sociable, he avoided his friends when his hearing worsened.
"I felt embarrassed and awkward because friends often complained that it was exhausting for them to chat with me as they had to talk very loudly and repeat themselves," he says. "At home, I became temperamental because I was frustrated at not being able to hear well."
His wife, Madam Seah Guat Eng, 66, says in Mandarin: "Before his hearing problems started, my husband was soft-spoken and easygoing. When he started losing his hearing, I could not get used to him talking to me very loudly because he sounded rude and harsh."
After he was fitted with hearing aids, Mr Lim says he gets along better with his wife and started meeting his friends again.
Miss Soo Ying Pei, 29, an audiologist with NUH, says age-related hearing loss happens progressively and at varying rates for individuals.
Early hearing loss may not be noticed as the person may not have difficulty hearing at this stage. Hearing screening can help with early detection for early intervention.
Age-related hearing loss and congenital hearing loss are not preventable, but noise-induced hearing loss can be avoided by reducing noise exposure. Statistics from the Ministry of Manpower and Workplace Safety and Health Institute last August showed that the second most common occupational disease was noise-induced deafness, with 329 cases.
Since the MHC started, 3,870 Singapore residents have had their hearing tested and 442 were fitted with hearing aids. Eligible residents aged 60 and above who need such aids can get subsidies through the Seniors' Mobility and Enabling Fund.
A Ministry of Health spokesman says adults aged 60 and above who have not attended functional screening in the past 12 months are encouraged to do so.
Functional screening involves basic checks on vision, hearing and oral health, and can detect any age-related decline in functional ability so that timely intervention can be rendered. Depending on their results, the seniors will be advised to seek follow-up care with the relevant healthcare professionals.
• For details on functional screening, go to bit.ly/functionalscreening or call the Singapore Silver Line on 1800-650-6060.
• This series is an initiative under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.