Jerry Russell is an online friend in the community of people with hearing loss who share their common challenges, frustrations, and words of encouragement. Jerry tells his story of when hearing loss is a family affair.
I’m rehearsing in my head what I’m about to say to my dad as I approach him. He’s sitting in his favorite chair watching television with his wireless headphones on so he can hear the TV better without blasting away the room.
I know what I need to do. I need to get his attention, wait for him to take off the headphones, look him directly in the eye and then speak clearly. The speaking clearly part, I guess, is why I’ve adopted the habit of rehearsing in my head. But I know that 9 times out of 10 I’m going to hear “Hah?” and I’ll have to repeat myself–which of course I gladly do.
My father has hearing loss, as much as 80% in one ear and he wears hearing aids in both ears. He’s 89 and I live part time with him (shared with other siblings) and yes this can be a challenge. My mother-in-law also wears hearing aids. (Well, she should wear her hearing aids but sometimes her ears itch so darn much that she doesn’t.) I have similar experiences communicating with her.
But I know I need to face them when speaking. I know I need to speak clearly but not shout. I know I can’t compete with the TV because the TV always wins. I know I can’t talk to them from the other room or when the water is running. I know how difficult it can be at family gatherings when everyone is talking at once. I know how noisy a restaurant can be.
I also understand about that incredible itch in the ear and how challenging it is to find yourself without batteries. How difficult it can be to keep the tips of the hearing aid tubes clean. How it’s not much fun to get caught in the rain anymore or how it’s not as easy to just jump in the pool.
I’m not magically or naturally understanding of the issues they face. While I’d love to make that claim, I understand them because I too am hard of hearing and wear hearing aids. I purchased my first one going on 15 years ago. It was life changing—for the better.
Did I want to get nudged down this same path? Of course not. But there is an upside in the bigger picture: my father or my mother-in-law are not alone in their hearing loss, as so often is the case in families. We can commiserate on the challenges and I can share some of my tips and success stories, such as it’s worth it to spend $93 on a drying or dehumidifying machine to store your hearing aids in overnight because it extends the life of that $5000 investment in your hearing life. I know they feel better being able to talk to someone who really gets it.
I’m also glad to be their advocate within the family. I tend to educate by nature (hopefully not annoyingly) so I try to help my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and myriad cousins understand what works well and what doesn’t. To try and give them an idea (even a small one) of what Dad is experiencing. To ask them to try to keep this in the front of their minds. Hearing aids are just that, aids. They’re not a cure. High volume can actually hurt so please don’t shout (no one likes to be shouted at anyway). Don’t crank the TV too high. Those noisy Thanksgiving dinners we used to have were fun, but they can be challenging now, and it’s easy to get left out of the converasation.
I’m mostly glad to be able to do this because many folks who are hard of hearing are hesitant to speak up and be explicit about their needs (“please turn that down”, “please look at me”, etc.). I was the same way in the beginning, but I lost my hesitancy a while ago when I realized I still had to live and function in this hearing world. So, I’m not afraid to ask the insurance person to stop looking at her computer screen and look at me while she asks for the pertinent information to change that policy. Or be prepared to repeat every question. I’m not afraid to start every haircut with “I wear hearing aids and I need to take them out so you may have to speak up.” I actually find being completely upfront commands immediate respect and attention in most cases.
So, living with a person who is hard of hearing is certainly a challenge, but for me it’s a two-way street. This experience gives me an upper hand over others who have dealt with hearing loss in their families, and I’m glad to use that upper hand as best I can.
Jerry Russell is an Information Technology professional and project manager working in New York City. As the “tech guy”, he enjoys helping people with technology, especially where it might assist those who are hard of hearing.