Feb 2018 Daily Mail Australia
When actress Amanda Barrie recently starred in Celebrity Big Brother, she didn’t pack her hearing aids to take into the house. The decision wasn’t because she was embarrassed to be seen wearing them – but because they are so tiny, she was afraid they’d get lost. The Coronation Street legend and vivacious 82-year-old, who is revealing for the first time that she suffers from age-related deafness, explains: ‘Hearing aids are so small these days I barely notice I’m wearing them.
‘I remember showing them off to a friend when I first had them fitted and she told me the great thing was I could cover them with my hair.’
Amanda, who shot to fame in the Carry On series of films in the early 1960s, quickly regretted her decision to spend two weeks on the reality television show without being able to hear, because she was constantly asking her housemates to tell her what was going on. ‘There were all these speakers with announcements telling me to go out and do tasks – and I couldn’t hear what they were saying,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t understand what we had to do, and the whole place would get a punishment if you didn’t do it.’
The veteran actress also has a suggestion for any women feeling bashful about having hearing aids. ‘I have no problem with people knowing I wear them – they are quite pretty really,’ she says. ‘You could almost wear them instead of earrings, or perhaps as a hearing aid with an earring attached. There’s a good idea: add a bit of glitter, a hoop and a drop off the end.’ She laughs. ‘I’m sure somebody will get on to that one!’
Like many people with hearing loss, Amanda first noticed her hearing was deteriorating in a noisy restaurant where there was a lot of background sound. ‘I’d been going to Joe Allen in Covent Garden ever since it opened in 1977, and a few years back it changed location. ‘My friends and I kept on not being able to hear each other in the new restaurant. I complained that there were dreadful acoustics, and eventually thought, “Maybe it’s not the restaurant, maybe it’s me.” ’
Last year, friends encouraged Amanda to take a hearing test, which confirmed she had age-related, high-frequency hearing loss. Most of us will experience hearing loss as we age, as tiny specialised hearing hair cells in the inner ear become damaged or die.
Gordon Harrison, chief audiologist at Specsavers, says: ‘It takes on average ten years for someone to seek help, but what many people don’t realise is that the sooner you do something about it, the better your hearing is likely to be for the long term. If you need hearing aids, wearing them can help to slow the rate of deterioration.’
Amanda, whose Corrie character Alma was memorably at the centre of a tug-of-love between Mike Baldwin and Ken Barlow, wears hearing aids in both ears and they have improved her quality of life. She recognises she was unconsciously compensating for hearing loss by turning up the TV volume, leaning forward to hear friends at the table, or saying ‘Pardon?’ several times a day.
She says: ‘That’s how it came about – years of “What, what? What did you say?” But it didn’t occur to me to have a hearing test.’
Now, in an effort to normalise hearing loss and to encourage others to take a hearing test, Amanda is supporting Specsavers Audiologists’ Listen Up! Campaign and World Hearing Day on March 3.
She is urging everyone over 55 to have their hearing checked every two years, just as they would have regular eye tests. ‘You don’t have to have lost your sight before you get your eyes tested so it should be the same with hearing tests and hearing aids,’ she says. ‘Get checked before the symptoms have got to the stage when you’re really deaf. There’s no point struggling along when you could be enjoying life so much more. ‘Hearing aids really make a difference in being able to join in the conversation. I’m really pleased I did something about it.’