How Old is Your Hearing Loss?

“Were you born with ‘it’?”

I get this question a lot when I, and my hearing loss, meet someone for the first time. Sometimes they ask hesitantly, not sure what to call ‘the problem’, which they indicate with little finger jabs at their own ear.

Talking about hearing loss is usually one of my favorite things to do, and I’m drawn like a bug to the light by anyone wearing a hearing aid. (Aha, one of my people!) When someone asks me about hearing loss, either mine or generally speaking, they often get more information than they expected or wanted.  How long the discussion lasts depends on my mood, whether the person is really interested, how much time I want to spend with this person, or how quickly they cut me off. “Gee, how nice, thanks for sharing.”

The Short Discussion is usually conducted with strangers, as a ‘sidebar’ to a conversation when I’ve had to ask the person to repeat themselves or speak up.

“Uh, how long have you had ‘it’?”

“All my life.”

“So, you were born with it, then?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, wow. Do they know what..you know…?”

“Caused it?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

The Long Discussion might take place at social gatherings or at work where there’s more time to chat with a new friend or colleague.  And Long Discussions are the backbone of consumer hearing loss conferences where people love to share their stories – and where you are honor-bound to sit through many tales of lifelong hearing loss and a traumatic recitation of past, horrible hearing aids. But the payoff comes when they are done and you can launch into your own hearing loss history, which they in turn must sit through, to the end! Luckily, most people and their stories are interesting, and there are useful tips to be learned from experienced hard of hearing people. (“Do not, as I did”, one person told me, “EVER put your hearing aid on the kitchen shelf while you are making a pie, or it too may be baked at 350° for one hour.” No danger of that, as I don’t bake.)

But I have come to understand why some people prefer to keep the fact of their hearing loss to themselves unless absolutely necessary. There are times – and this is a big confession for an avowed hearing health advocate – when I’m simply not in the mood to discuss my hearing loss or anyone else’s. Sometimes I’m just too impatient to handle the stream of well-meant questions that I’ve answered a thousand times before. This includes the jokers who, when I ask them to speak up, fire back a “pardon?” and then expect me to laugh as if it were the first time I’d ever heard this corny joke. (You have to be careful, though.  Last week an airline check-in staffperson dished back a ‘pardon’ and, because I wanted to humor her into letting me pre-board, I just laughed at her joke. Turned out she was hard of hearing and I did some fancy footwork to show I was not an insensitive traveler who should be stuffed in the overhead compartment.)

Other inner sigh-inducing questions:

How old is your hearing loss?   (73)

Really? How old ARE you?  (59…)

Where did it come from?  (An airborne virus)

How many ears is it in?  (Three)

Do you use that sign language?  (Just the cussing signs. Wanna see one?)

Is there anything that can be done for it?  (Cooked spinach, but I can’t stand the stuff.)

Do you read lips?  (Yes, but not yours.)

OK, can you guess what I’m saying?  (Oh, Holy Mother o’ Fred, kill me now!)

In my experience, people asking questions are truly interested in your hearing loss and for several reasons:

  • They are amazed at how ‘normal’ you look and/or how ‘well’ you speak.
  • They suspect a personal hearing loss and are digging for useful information
  • They have a close family member with hearing loss who is driving them crazy and they need to vent.
  • They’re nicer than you and simply curious about life.

The occasional bad mood aside, I welcome these questions because the conversation often circles back to their hearing issues.  There was a time when I was the one in need of information and this is an opportunity to pay it forward – to encourage the person to seek professional hearing care, to recommend a hearing loss consumer group, to suggest some  informative websites.

And with all these questions, both the simple and the silly, what people are really asking is – I am struggling with the loss of hearing in my life; how are things going to change for me and am I going to be OK?

And the best thing we can do is say, “Got a minute? Let’s chat.”

 

Gael, 2 (Age of Diagnosis)
Gael, 2 (Age of Diagnosis)

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

12 Comments

  1. I can completely relate to this wonderful article 1 miniute I will be talking to my friends and then they will suddenly randomly start asking me about what it is like to have deafness which I don’t particularly mind. The number one thing that really frustrates me is when my friends are all talking to eachother and I won’t hear a part of what they say and I will ask them what they said and they say “it doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it”

  2. I just discovered this site. Thank you so much for the wonderful articles. This one made me giggle. I was dx at the age of 2 with sensory nuero hearing loss in both ears. My daughters (12 and 13) both have hearing loss. So now we know it is genetic and that I am not some freak of nature!! :-)

  3. Awesome post! So relatable! When people (I know intimately; never strangers) are curious about my hearing aids and how it sounds, I offer to put them in their ears. (I ALWAYS clean them prior and after!) Before I insert them into their ears, the aids are already on, volume on the lowest, and I intermittently increase it with their approval. 110% of the time they are astounded and floored with what they hear: unpleasant, loud, amplified, echo-ey, like speakers attached onto their heads, no bass all treble, etc. Then 90% of them go, “%$^#! that’s loud. How can you wear that?!”

    The rest commonly responds with, “Hmmm, interesting….” (Now these are the people I immediately label as “closeted” or in denial that they may have a hearing loss.)

    1. That’s cool that you let your friends wear your HAs and listen with them. :) What kind of HAs do you wear? What’s your hearing loss level, just curious? ;) (mine is profound high-frequency bilateral sensorineural, starting at 35/40db in lows, to 110db in the highs, and I wear BTEs)

  4. “Mommie, what is that thing in his ears?”
    Is it a radio? (now a ear bud). What is the score of the game?
    Can you hear me now? – after they deliberately cease making any auditory sound.
    How old were you when you got hearing aids? – yes I am that old!

    Then my favorite line – About the time I was 7-9 years old I was speaking as a demonstration child, to the Glendale Women’s Club (Glendale, California). “Donnie they cannot hear you in the back of the audience – my retort – “tell them to turn up their hearing aids.”

  5. As always, you hit a ton of nails on the head! made me laugh, remember, bristle, and think how lucky we all are to have each other to talk to about this stuff! Sign language…Always wonder why people even ask that QQ. But, hey…I look so normal they can’t help wondering, right? Never mind… Just kidding!

  6. Ha! As always, you made me laugh. Glad I didn’t end up snorting my coffee through my nose this time ;)

    I know exactly what you mean about the never ending questions I’m often asked. While they may be curious, sadly they are rarely aware that they are being offensive to us with some of their rude comments.

    For people to say things like “Never mind, it wasn’t important…” then walk away is one of the most hurtful things you can do to someone with a hearing loss. Wow, talk about being so insensitive.

  7. Interesting! I know it was meant to be funny but you are lucky that people ask you about your hearing loss. People I talk to seldom ask any questions. Since I have good word discrimination, others probably feel it’s not as bad as I make out. Little do they know. However, if I am in a conversation with someone and my wife or someone else is present, it isn’t too long before they no longer talk to me. It’s much easier to talk to the one who hears well.

  8. And thanks to the “Gael, 2” snapshot, above, we frequent readers and fans won’t have to ask, “How old are those bangs?”

  9. Thanks for the giggle — your columns never fail to make me smile and make me feel like I’m not alone.

    Loved the answer to the “sign language” question. :) I get “But you’re so young…” a lot, as well as, “But you sound so normal”. Well, it’s been a gradual loss so I guess that’s why. It’s the only “normal” thing about me. :)

  10. I enjoyed reading your article. It brought back memory for me… As someone brought about “BAKING” As a child with hearing aids.. I had my hearing aids chewed by dog(s) twice. I remember as i love to swim and I don’t know how many time I went swimming with my hearing aids on. I did learned when in mid air of diving, I turned myself around and try to keep my head above water. Most of the time, that works lol. When I wasn’t successful, Mom just put the hearing aids in the windowsill and let the sun dry them. Most of the time that’s work. I also remember that when I do have accidents with my hearing aids, my parents never got angry with me… They have on other things but not when it comes to my hearing and hearing aids.

    Again. thanks for your Article Gael.

  11. I literally laughed out loud at the “Do you use that sign language? (Just the cussing signs. Wanna see one?)” comment. BIG GRIN.

    Great article and as usual so important to convey the “funny” in living life with hearing loss. I can relate! :-)

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