'People think you are being rude': Osher Günsberg reveals hearing loss

Feb 2018 Sydney Morning Herald

After two decades on television, Osher Gunsberg is a pretty recognisable face, but don't be offended if you are snubbed if you try to say hi. "People can think you are ignoring them or being rude when that’s not the case," Gunsberg says. "I simply can’t hear you.” At 43 years old, the Bachelor host is part of the 17 per cent of Australians who suffer from hearing loss. Gunsberg has industrial hearing loss, acquired after spending his late teens working as a roadie. He first noticed the problem nearly a decade later, when operating his car stereo.  "I used to put my stereo up to 14 [but I had started to] put it up to 18 and that still wasn’t loud enough," he recalls. "That was the first moment I realised something was really quite wrong."

Other GunsbergHe now wears hearing aids in both ears. In addition, Gunsberg has tinnitus, a persistent ringing sound which is "the loudest noise [he] can hear in any room”. Beyond the obvious implications for his work as a television presenter, Gunsberg says he is particularly aware of the effect his hearing loss has on his wife, makeup artist Audrey Griffin, and his 13-year-old stepdaughter, Georgia. "Try and imagine 200 camera flashes recharging around your head while you’re trying to listen to your wife or your child tell you something really important. But you have this extraordinarily loud noise in your head that they can’t hear."

Gunsberg has signed on as the ambassador of NSW children's charity The Shepherd Centre, which provides support to over 500 families of children with hearing impairments each year.

"It can be very isolating to have hearing loss as an adult, so I can only imagine what that would be like for a small child," he says. The Shepherd Centre provides therapy programs for children with hearing impairments, with the objective of allowing them to enter mainstream schools with the same speech and language skills as their fellow classmates. CEO Dr Jim Hungerford, says signs that children should be taken for a hearing test include if they only pay attention to people when they can see their face, if they watch television or play video games at an uncomfortably high volume, as well as if they are often fatigued. "When you have a partial hearing loss, you have to pay much more attention, and that is really tiring for kids," he explains. A child repeatedly touching their ear can also be a red flag, as this could indicate a middle ear infection, which, left untreated, is one of the leading causes of hearing loss in Australia, particularly in Indigenous communities.

Adults who find themselves always asking people to repeat what they just said in a conversation, or who struggle to follow conversations in loud places like bars, should consider having their hearing tested. "They are common situations for all of us, but if you start to find them becoming more common for you, that's a sign to get your hearing checked."

With the number of Australians with hearing loss expected to reach 25 per cent by 2050, Dr Hungerford says there is an important reason for people to take hearing loss seriously: multiple studies have identified hearing loss as a possible risk factor for early-onset dementia, a link that has been attributed both to the tendency for people with hearing loss to withdraw socially, as well as a loss of the brain stimulation caused by being able to hear.

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