I’ve been meaning to write the following article for some time now, and finally got around to doing it. Hopefully if applicable to you, you’ll find something useful here. I wrote it to help anyone who might be dealing with hearing loss challenges in their retirement. It’s based on my own situation in hopes that what I’ve learned over time might be of some use to you.
Canadian Hearing Loss Statistics
The good news is that, according to a new study, 40% of Canadian adults are free of hearing health problems. The bad news: approximately three in five adults (60%) have hearing loss (23%), tinnitus (22%), or both conditions (14%). Overall, 60% of Canadians aged 19 to 79 have a hearing health problem. Many Canadians aged 40 to 79 years are unaware that they have hearing loss. Hearing loss is more common at older ages. It often grows gradually as part of the aging process but may also be caused by loud noise (emphasis added), trauma, medications and disease (Statistics Canada Website, October 20, 2021).
In 2005, during a work mandated medical, the audiologist asked if I was an RCMP. I said no and asked why. She said, because your audiogram is very similar to that of a cop with lower hearing in one ear than the other. She asked what I did that might have contributed to the noted hearing decline at higher frequencies. I told her I was a park warden, and over the years operated snowmobiles, quads, chainsaws, fire pumps, outboard motors, jet boats, and generators; flew in fixed and rotary winged aircraft and participated in yearly firearms training. While hearing protection is more common today, it wasn’t in the 70s, 80s and 90s, the era in which most of us were working. The audiologist suggested I look into submitting a “work related hearing loss” (WRHL hereafter) WCB claim. Working with Marje Mann, a Health and Safety rep from the Calgary office, I submitted a WCB WRHL claim that was subsequently approved.
My claim provides for new hearing aids (HA) including battery replacement, every 60 months, and yearly hearing assessments at no cost. I’m now on my 5th pair of HAs. Each replacement cycle enables me to gain new HA technology ie the ability to receive phone calls and TV sound through my HAs, as well as adjustments for continued hearing decline.
Last year I took two Living Successfully With Hear Loss course via Zoom, through the Vancouver Community College and I highly recommend them. They can be found at: https://www.vcc.ca/courses/dhhe-0618/ and https://www.vcc.ca/courses/dhhe-0619/. The courses provide lots of practical day to day information to help deal with hearing loss challenges such a: an introduction to speech reading, useful technology, and numerous tips allowing for better communication. NALscribe and Otter are “speech to text” apps I’ve found useful and there are many others. Apple iPhones have a Live Caption (Beta) program that enables your incoming phone conversations to show up as closed captioning on your phone screen.
There are a number of books out there with lots of useful and practical information as well beneficial to both you and your partner. A more recent book is Hear and Beyond, Living Skillfully with Hearing Loss by Shari Eberts and Gael Hannon https://www.gaelhannan.com/book/. The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association website https://www.chha.ca/ has a wealth of information and resources as well. A number of movie theatres, arts centers and churches’ etc. have closed captioning devices and/or loop systems you can connect to, to help capture what is being said. Most of these devices are very discreet.
Perhaps the most impactful thing I learned through the VCC class, was that Revenue Canada has a Disability Tax Credit (DTC) for hearing loss. My DTC application was approved last January. It provided a $8870 tax credit I used on my 2022 tax return. Revenue Canada also reassessed my 3 previous tax return years which resulted in an additional tax refund of $5800 for those years. This was on top of the $1800 added to my 2022 refund.
If you are dealing with hearing loss and/or currently paying for your hearing aids, I encourage you to pursue a WCB WRHL claim. This can be done after retirement. If doing so, your biggest challenge might be finding the right Parks Canada HR person to verify your employment record. You will need to document the nature, duration, and frequency of the duties contributing to your hearing loss over your career. Lots of details are critical in terms of duration and frequency of noise exposure. While I never worked in avalanche control as many of my western colleagues have, my work history would still be similar to many of you. I am aware of at least two former park wardens who’s after retirement WCB WRHL claims were approved. With HAs costing well in excess of $2000 at the lower end and upwards of $5000 at the higher end, it is well worth your time and effort.
If you decide to pursue a WCB WRHL claim, former park wardens George Mercer and Todd Golumbia, provided me some useful tips that will help with the process. They contacted Health Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org and provided them with their name, PRI (found on your pension slip or an old pay stub), phone #, Parks Canada work history (from when to when), and DOB. They found Health Canada quite responsive in providing them with their old health records and hearing test results, which should depending on your circumstances, demonstrate a work related hearing loss. As BC residents, they applied online through Worksafe BC (the BC WCB equivalent) at https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/claims/forms/application-for-hearing-loss-resulting-from-exposure-to-longterm-occupational-noise-form-4?lang=en They submitted their federal Health Canada records and any current hearing records from outside of a government audiologist. Todd indicated he did not have to contact PCA for his BC WorkSafe claim.
I’m sure the Alberta or other provincial WCB agencies will have a similar application process. Federal government employee claims from “North of 60” (for folks like me) are processed through Alberta WCB. My application process was similar to the above.
I’m at the point now where I have “profound” hearing loss in one ear, and “severe” loss in the other. I was referred for a cochlear implant (CI) assessment in 2022. CIs are the device the drummer in the Sound of Metal movie had, essentially a new way of hearing requiring surgery. My CI assessment determined I was not yet eligible for an implant. My HAs at the time of my assessment provided for 75 – 85% word understanding in the quiet sound booth where I was tested. I had just over 50% understanding without my aids in the sound booth. I figure I am going to have to be pretty much completely deaf before I am a successful CI candidate. Time will tell.
Not surprisingly, the St Paul’s audiologist told me I would continue to have hearing difficulties in normal day to day settings. She recommended I get a remote microphone device and hearing loop capable HAs. Since my current aids did not have this capacity, I applied to Alberta WCB to approve the purchase of new HA before my current replacement cycle. With WCB approval I obtained new HAs with the required technology. I also purchased (unfortunately not covered by Alberta WCB) a Roger On remote hearing device with several practical applications. I can use it with my TV to have sound transmitted directly to my HA. I can place it on the dinner table to pick up conversations from multiple directions. I can ask speakers at funerals and weddings etc to wear it so their voices are transmitted directly to my HA. Lastly, I can have a passenger in a vehicle (where hearing can be very challenging), wear the remote mic to aid in hearing. It is a very pricy device at $2800, but my unexpected additional tax refund easily covered its cost. While not the “game changer” I hoped it would be, the Roger On has certainly been helpful in addressing some of my hearing challenges.
Todd provided some additional insight with respect to his Oticon HAs pertaining to tinnitus (likely related to firearm use) and bird watching. His HAs have a programmable white noise function that helps to screen out the whine of tinnitus that works well for him. His aids are programmable and in addition to tinnitus, TV, phone calls, and music streaming, he got his audiologist to program a “birding” setting so he could hear the higher frequency warblers etc. that he couldn’t hear before.
On that note, there are a variety of HAs out there and it is important to find ones that best meet your needs. I found that audiologist usually have a pricing relationship with the various HA brands most likely based on volume of sales. I saved thousands of dollars in getting my HA through the government of Yukon Hearing Services who had a far better pricing relationship with the Phonak hearing aids brand than my private audiologist. Fortunately, he was willing to work with them and Alberta WCB to get the best hearing aids for my needs. Unfortunately, the Oticon brand he worked with, was not compatible with the Roger On remote device I wanted. It paid to shop around.
I hope the preceding information will be useful to any of you dealing with hearing loss. There is a lot of technology out that won’t overcome your hearing challenges, but should help improve the quality of your life. If I sound like an advocate for better hearing, I guess I am. Why suffer hearing loss frustrations when you don’t have to. Please do not hesitate to reach out and contact me if you have any questions on these topics.