Hearing Loss: A Personal Story

what-hiThe Natural Progression of the Hard of Hearing: A Personal Story

This week I am taking a departure from my regular topics related to dizziness, vertigo and vestibular function. In addition to being an audiologist, I am also a member of the hearing impaired public. My three years spent working in a very loud campus pub during college cost me some permanent high frequency hearing loss. Here is my experience:

Hearing loss doesn’t come on over night. It is typically a slow, insidious process that gets just a little worse each month, then each year. It usually starts with accusing others of mumbling, but then you start to notice more and more people seem to mumble. You ask people to repeat when you don’t understand, and that works for awhile. They don’t mind speaking up or repeating to include you in the conversation, but they forget because everyone else can understand them at comfortable conversational levels. When they forget, you ask again, but after a few times, you feel like they will be annoyed at you if you ask one more time. So, you just give up and isolate yourself from the conversation.

Sometimes you are determined you are not going to be left out. So you use your eyes and your brain, and concentrate on the speaker to understand what is being said. But, this takes a lot of effort and is exhausting after a while. When the conversation turns to something less interesting, you give yourself a break and stop paying attention. It then becomes very difficult to get back in the conversation and you are done for the night.

Eventually, you start to recognize that certain settings, maybe this restaurant or that church gathering, are stressful when they are supposed to be fun. The thought of being in a situation where everyone else is talking and laughing, and you are feeling alone while with a group of people, produces anxiety and frustration. You feel like you may as well just stay home.

If this sounds familiar, join the club. This has been my personal experience over the past several years. It started when I noticed I could not stay with a group conversation in a large hotel lobby in Chicago. I knew I had some hearing loss from my days working in a loud setting while in college, but I didn’t think it was bad enough to consider hearing aids. For years, I had told people with similar hearing loss that they were not ready for hearing aids.

Finally, I decided to try hearing aids, thinking I would only use them in rare situations. That was about five years ago. I now use them in many situations, simply because they make those situations more enjoyable for me, but more so for those with me. I know the look from my wife that means “Are you kidding me?” when I tell her I forgot to put on my hearing aids on the way to dinner somewhere. It is awfully nice to be able to sit back and relax, and be part of the conversation. I didn’t realize it then, but I had spent years leaning in, trying to understand. Now, the back of my chair gets a lot more use.

About Alan Desmond

Dr. Alan Desmond is the director of the Balance Disorders Program at Wake Forest Baptist Health Center, and holds an adjunct assistant professor faculty position at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. In 2015, he received the Presidents Award from the American Academy of Audiology.

2 Comments

  1. Hello Thomas. You are right on track with what it feels like to become hard of hearing after having heard normally. Welcome to the group. Please accept my personal invitation to become a member of The Hearing Loss Association of America. It seems to be the ONLY place where people ‘get it’ perfectly. If you are already a member, which I hope, please be sure to suggest HLAA involvement to the clients in your audiology practice. Many audiologists with hearing loss have been involved in HLAA. Mark Ross PhD, was on the board for years. He authored several of the HLAA Policy Papers, and a column that appeared in Hearing Loss Magazine for many years. You probably studied some of his publications when you were working towards your degrees. There are many others. Peer support is the ‘pillar’ of the HLAA mission that gives people their life back. That special kind of support can only be offered by one who experiences hearing loss personally. For most people with adult onset hearing loss, realizing they are not alone is the first major step. That comes through peer support. From there many become educators and advocates. There is a lot that needs doing. Please come on board. http://www.hearingloss.org

  2. A simple and clear description of an all to common problem. I have mailed the editor for permission to use this item in”talks ” related to hearing problems. I am a volunteer attached to RNID.

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