When hearing problems start, so does the advice.
The first suggestion is usually, “You should get your hearing checked.”
But to be honest, when loved ones first start lobbing that advice, most people don’t immediately jump in the car and drive madly to the hearing clinic. And they probably won’t mention a possible hearing problem to their family doctor, either—who should have brought this up already with the patient, don’t you think?
Eventually, the friendly suggestions offered out of loving concern become less friendly, more frustrated, and more frequent. “Dave, you’re not getting what I say! I’ve told you a million times—get your hearing checked!”
And it’s actually very good advice that Dave should take, even if he, like many people, thinks his hearing is just fine, thanks. This noisy world of ours is helping to speed up the deterioration of our delicate hearing system. It’s a smart idea to get a baseline audiogram to see how those cochlear hair cells are holding up.
But the poke in the arm to visit an audiologist is just the first in a long list of good advice ideas. When communication starts to become a challenge, there’s a good stuff we need to know—technically, socially and emotionally.
Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned—and been told—through the years. You may have seen these ‘words to the wise’ before, perhaps in different words, but it never hurts to revisit good advice, because our hearing changes and so does technology.
Admit there might be a problem. You can’t hide a hearing loss—not for very long, anyway. Be honest about your hearing (loss) and how it affects your life.
Make your family and friends part of your better hearing journey. After all, they have to live with hearing loss too—they are the ones you’re communicating with.
Get help. Find a hearing care professional (HCP) that you like, trust and can understand. (I’ve been to more than one mumbling audiologist.)
Make sure your HCP explains the Big Picture of hearing loss in way that makes sense to you. The HCP should explain your options and the two of you should decide together what the next steps should be.
Explore the suggested technical options, including hearing aids and other doo-dads. Make sure you get telecoils, they’ll come in handy.
Connect with other people with hearing loss. These are the people who tell you the really important, life-changing stuff that only someone going through the same thing as you would know.
Once you learn all that, and you’re out there actually communicating, here’s the big one. Tell People What You Need. Whenever you need it. Which will be frequently. Things like face me, please repeat that, speak up, not so loud, not so fast. If they won’t cooperate, unfriend them.
Make life easy for yourself, and make the listening environment one that works for you. If dark restaurants are tough to talk in, don’t go there. If you need captioning on the TV, keep it on. Other people will get used to it. (If they continue to balk, try this: watch a program with your family and every single time a character says something or even coughs, ask, “What was that? What did he say?” That will get your point across that captioning is easier—for everyone.
Don’t be ashamed of your hearing loss. The only shame is in continuing to deny it. Be proud that you’ve faced a problem head on and are doing something about it.
There are a thousand other tricks of the hearing loss trade, but “doing whatever it takes” is the beating heart of better communication.