Leslie Soiles, Chief Audiologist for The National Campaign for Better Hearing. She talks about hearing loss.
What unexpected obstacles have you faced (even as a student) and how are they overcome?
I was very young when my hearing loss was detected, but I just lived with it through high school. As a student in elementary school, my hearing loss impacted fundamental skills. I was a delayed reader, and had difficulty sounding out words. Fortunately, I got tutoring. My tutor’s investment in me was pivotal in keeping me learning at my grade level. By middle school I had learned techniques to stay ahead of the curve. I worked twice as hard as my classmates, trying to understand what was being taught. I read materials before class, so I’d have context for lessons the following day.
During my freshman year in college, I realized I couldn’t be successful without addressing my hearing loss. Academically, I could no longer compensate and fake it. The classes were too big, the subject matter was more complex and I needed to hear my professors clearly in order to learn. I got hearing aids. It was a life-changing experience for me. Prior to getting hearing aids, I shied away from taking part in discussions because it took me time to work out what was being said.
When I started college I was unsure what I wanted to study. Once I came to terms with my hearing loss, I discovered that I wanted to be an audiologist. Iwznted to help other people with hearing loss. I could also educate people about the implications of untreated hearing loss and the rewards of treating it.
How did your life change when you got hearing aids?
When I first started wearing hearing aids, they were analog and they made everything loud. I could only wear them in a meeting or classroom. I couldn’t wear them in a car, at a restaurant or in the kitchen (because they made everything louder). In 1996, the technology advanced to a level where digital hearing technology became available, and that was the turning point for me because I could put my hearing aids in and leave them in all day long. It allowed me to be at the ready for conversations or interactions—with a cashier at a store or with a colleague in a meeting. I was able to participate as an equal and fully engage in the discussion.
Tell me about your mission to educate Baby Boomers about the importance of putting hearing care on their healthcare agenda.
I was inspired to enter the field of audiology by an audiologist who was a powerful force in my life. He educated me about hearing loss, and helped me understand why it caused me to struggle. Up to that point, no one had explained it to me. As a kid, I was in and out of testing booths, but didn’t know what was happening. I found understanding the relationship between my hearing loss and my everyday challenges very liberating.
As the chief audiologist for The National Campaign for Better Hearing, my mission is to educate people about the need to monitor their hearing. As we age, there will be hearing loss. It’s typically slow and not something you realize right away. Having a baseline hearing test is going to provide beneficial information to people age 60 and over because it will determine their current hearing levels, and make it easier to identify future hearing loss.
We have an incredible capacity to cope with things that are not perfect. Baby Boomers are likely to struggle for years with a slowly progressing hearing loss before they do something. They may compensate by lip-reading or by avoiding noisy restaurants—they will needlessly put themselves through hearing challenges when it could have been addressed so much sooner. Most hearing loss is easily treatable. I want to make sure the Campaign for Better Hearing educates people about how hearing loss can impact their lives, and what their options are, so they can lead their best lives.
What unexpected obstacles have you faced and how are they overcome?
I worked with 3 (ENT) practices and I would test patients’ hearing and fit them with hearing aids, as needed. Working in busy ENT practices sometimes meant that I didn’t get to spend as much time with my patients as I wanted. Eventually, I decided to open my own audiology practice, so I could give patients more time for education and help them make informed decisions. This practice is now part of HearingLife.
What advice do you give to people on how to protect their hearing?
At a minimum earplugs should be used when operating loud equipment like lawnmowers or snowblowers, but earmuffs really protect hearing the most. Recreationally it’s important to wear earplugs when riding a motorcycle or a snowmobile or when going to a concert. At a concert, you can still hear the music with earplugs, but it takes the piercing noise level down. For kids and teenagers, streaming music through their ear buds is becoming an issue. As a general rule of thumb, if the person next to you can hear what’s in your ear buds, you need to turn down the volume.
What has hearing loss taught you?
It’s taught me that nobody is perfect, but we all have our own way of filling the gap. It has taught me to value those relationships where the individual is going to partner with me to fill the gap. I had family members and teachers who went above and beyond to get me where I needed to be academically and emotionally. My hearing loss has given me a more informed perspective of who’s on my side.