During the last years of my dad’s life, we all knew his hearing was not great. I’m not sure why he did not get hearing aids. We knew that large noisy groups made it hard for him to socialize and that he shied away from those. He could hear us in small groups or one on one conversation, mostly. I don’t remember feeling annoyed with him or him getting short with us when he could not hear. He was career navy and served in WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam so I know he had noise exposure as one culprit in his hearing loss. And there was age.
I do remember feeling I wish we did not have to plan events so that he could be comfortable.
This brings up the question of who is responsible for what when there is a change in physical ability? How much of the burden is on the person whose health and ability status changes? What about those in that person’s life?
Next week I will have molds made for hearing aids. Some of my hearing loss is just family and age, I am sure. I also sing in a group and in a concert two years ago, the tenors to my left were magnificently loud in several pieces and I heard immediately the tell tale ringing that did not stop when I left the concert and for days later. Actually I still have the tinnitus, more in my left than right ear. Luckily for me it does not drive me batty, either because I am already batty or because I just have enough going on that it is not on the radar of my life. But I knew after that event my left ear in particular was in deep trouble for hearing.
I say “what?” a lot. I struggle in my groups with students if the quiet students do not speak up. My kids are frustrated at having to repeat themselves. Maybe my students are too. My friends tease me. I say “wait til you have these shoes on…see how it is.” I laugh with them because I am good at laughing at myself. Some people seem irritated when I ask for them to repeat themselves. I feel “less than” even though I did not make this happen other than to sing next to loud people.
Soon after that concert a very close friend and I were at her family’s cabin. I was saying “what?” a lot. And she would then yell her next response, well not yell loudly, but much louder than it needed to be. I got irritated and suggested that if she did not mumble I could hear her, that it was articulation not loudness that was the issue. She retorted that I was going deaf and she did not mumble. I told her I had an audiology appointment already made and that I still believed she mumbled. Within the week I found out the degree of my hearing loss and mutual friends acknowledged that she does “mumble” a bit.
Loud places are hard. It turns out that with sensorineural hearing loss, part of what happens is not only can a person hear less well, they also have a shift in the noise comfort level. A normal hearing person will say “it is bothering me” when the noise level is at a certain decibel level. A sensorineural hearing loss person will say it is bothering them at a much lower decibel level. And that is independent of what they can hear in language at a given level. I have had three hearing tests. The first two my results demonstrated this. In the third I “cheated,” because I knew of this concept. I weathered the noise far beyond what was really tolerable…and I passed. Yay me! Not.
It turns out that a lot of our communication is not from hearing. It can be body language, lip reading that we don’t know we are doing, etc. The context helps. Some people are better at accommodating, figuring out context and filling in the blanks.
And in some settings it is hard to ask people to speak up, or say it again. I can understand why my dad and others with hearing loss tend to withdraw. I have wondered if I should stop my working in the work I do. Is that wondering because I question my skill or because I am embarrassed or because I am just tired advocating for myself? I honestly don’t know. I just feel like it is hard, my problem, and well…I guess I just don’t know what should/could be a reasonable expectation in differnt relationships. Many have trouble hearing our department chairman. Is that my problem and should I just pretend I hear and be quiet?
Last week I felt like a sitcom. My younger son yelled down to me from upstairs. “Mom, can you get me some paper?” I yelled back, “what do you need paper for?”
“Mom can you just get me some paper, now?” I answered, “Nick, just get it from the printer, which is right up there with you. Won’t that work?” He then came down stairs looking crosseyed. “What is wrong with you?” “What do you mean,” I retorted. “You want paper. There is tons upstairs.” “Mom, I said, will you do me a favor!?” We both collapsed in laughter to his words, “get that hearing aid.”
I found a website that talks honestly about what others can do. I know what I need to do. Of course I hope the aids help. The ones I tried before did nothing.
Here are tips if you are a normally hearing person with someone in your life who is hearing impaired from the Hearing Loss Association of America:
Tips for Hearing Person to Communicate with Person who has a Hearing Loss
Set Your Stage
- Face person directly.
- Spotlight your face (no backlighting).
- Avoid noisy backgrounds.
- Get attention first.
- Ask how you can facilitate communication.
- When audio and acoustics are poor, emphasize the visual.
Get the Point Across
- Don’t shout.
- Speak clearly, at moderate pace, not over-emphasizing words.
- Don’t hide your mouth, chew food, gum, or smoke while talking.
- Re-phrase if you are not understood.
- Use facial expressions, gestures.
- Give clues when changing subjects or say “new subject.”
Establish Empathy with Your Audience
- Be patient if response seems slow.
- Talk to a hard of hearing person, not about him or her to another person.
- Show respect to help build confidence and have a constructive conversation.
- Maintain a sense of humor, stay positive and relax
Tips for the Person with Hearing Loss to Communicate with Hearing People
Set Your Stage
- Tell others how best to talk to you.
- Pick your best spot (light, quiet area, close to speaker).
- Anticipate difficult situations, plan how to minimize them.Do Your Part
- Pay attention.
- Concentrate on speaker.
- Look for visual clues.
- Ask for written cues if needed.
- Don’t interrupt. Let conversation flow to fill in the blanks and gain more meaning.
- Maintain a sense of humor, stay positive and relaxed.
Establish Empathy with Audience
- React. Let the speaker know how well he or she is conveying the information.
- Don’t bluff. Admit it when you don’t understand.
- If too tired to concentrate, ask for discussion later.
- Thank the speaker for trying
I return to the question. Who has responsibility for what? What is your role?