Lolly Wigall discusses the frustrations of hearing loss, even for long-time hearing aid users whose family and friends don’t understand what aids actually do.
Having a hearing loss is not fun. Many times hearing loss “creeps” up on the person. Most times hearing loss is gradual. I tell people that hearing loss begins when you are 21 years old. But, that is not true anymore. Statistics show that at least 7 percent of American teenagers have some hearing loss.
Losing hearing gradually can pose psychological and relationship problems. If one person in the relationship begins to lose their hearing, communication can become a problem. When a couple has been married for a long time, they most likely have developed the habit of talking to the other person from the other room. I am guilty of this too. We married young. We both had excellent hearing and could carry on a conversation from the other room. Maybe we could even hear each other from three rooms away. Generally, we don’t think of that as a bad habit, but as we age and our hearing deteriorates, it becomes a stumbling block for our relationship. I cannot talk to my husband from the kitchen with the water running when he is in the next room watching TV. Sure, he hears my voice, but he usually has no idea what I am saying. He probably doesn’t even hear what topic I am talking about.
Losing one’s hearing can be devastating. It is difficult to admit there is a problem. Statistics have shown that it takes most people about ten years to actually go for a hearing test, even though they suspect they have a hearing loss. That is ten years of “faking it” at parties, meetings, and dinners. Ten years of stress. Ten years of straining to hear what is being said. Ten years of strain on relationships both at home and at work. It is ten years of missing out on conversations.
Finally going for a hearing test and having the hearing loss confirmed can be a relief. Finding out that there is a reason why you have misunderstood your spouse, friends, boss, co-workers can be a relief. But, the next big decision is what to do about the hearing loss. And, who do you tell? Is it an embarrassment that you have a hearing loss? Are you ashamed that you have a hearing loss?
Typically people with hearing loss are fit with hearing aids. Now we are opening another can of worms. The general public has little information or knowledge about hearing aids. Not only does the general public not understand what hearing aids can do, the immediate family members are misinformed about hearing loss and hearing aids.
The family has generally known that one person has a hearing loss. Now they are excited that the person is purchasing and being fit with hearing aids. Ah, problem solved! The person with the hearing aids will hear everything we say! There will not be any misunderstandings because they did not hear. After all, don’t hearing aids give the person “normal hearing?”
This past week, I had several patients talk about their frustrations with family, bosses, friends, and co-workers. Each of these patients has had long standing hearing loss. They have worn hearing aids for years. They have the latest technology. They have admitted they have hearing loss. They once were shy about telling family members, bosses, co-workers and friends that they had a hearing loss. When their hearing loss was first diagnosed, each of them felt hesitant to tell others that they wear hearing aids. They felt embarrassed that they needed help in hearing what is being said.
Now, however, after several years, they are not shy about saying, “I have hearing aids. Please look at me when you talk to me. I cannot hear you talk to me from the other room. I have a hard time understanding what you are saying when there is a lot of background noise. Please get my attention before you talk to me.” Having the courage to even speak up is admirable. Figuring out the time and place to tell others what your needs are can be very difficult. It means “putting yourself “out there” into a vulnerable place and hoping you are respected and loved by those you are telling. Being vulnerable is not an easy thing to do in a work place. Telling friends of your “handicap” can be upsetting. You don’t know how someone will react. You don’t know if you will be thought of as “less than normal”. It is truly frightening.
And, then you do not know if the information you gave them about your needs and your situation will cause a change in their behavior. By expressing your needs, you are hoping they have some empathy and understanding to your situation. You are hoping they will process the information and react to you differently.
One woman this week said she is so frustrated at her boss. She has asked her boss numerous times to turn her head towards her when she is speaking to her. Instead, her boss just starts talking while looking at her computer screen and expects this person to hear her from across the room. It is so frustrating! What should she do? Ignore her boss? Remind her boss again to get her attention by calling her name before she starts speaking? It is a dilemma.
And what about an adult child telling a friend some important information and expecting her mother to “overhear it” while at a very noisy party? The mother was engaged in a conversation nearby. She was struggling to hear the person she was talking to. It would have been impossible for her to “eavesdrop” on her daughter’s conversation. Later, the mother heard the information from another family member. When the mother asked the daughter why she hadn’t told her directly, her response was,” you were nearby and I thought you would hear me because you had your hearing aids on.” The mother was very upset that even after years of wearing hearing aids, her own daughter did not seem to comprehend that she struggles to hear conversations in a noisy situation.
Hearing loss is not fun. Wearing hearing aids does not give a person normal hearing. Hearing aids are a help. Hearing aids give the wearer a better chance to hear what is being said. Hearing aids are not a cure. Hearing aids do not give 20/20 hearing.
Please be patient with a person with hearing loss. Please talk to them directly. Please get their attention before you start talking to them. Please have some understanding and empathy. Please check in to see if they heard and understood what you were saying.