On being hard of hearing…


Being hard of hearing means never having to say, “I’m sorry.”  Oh, no, wait, that quote was from a “Love Story.”  Sorry.

What being hard of hearing means for me is having to constantly put other people on notice that I am “hard of hearing” or “hearing impaired” (a phrase which is apparently an out of vogue statement these days).

What having a hearing loss means to me is that when I’m in a hearing environment I don’t have control over (like in my office) I have to work so freaking hard to understand what’s going on I end up feeling exhausted after a while.

Last night I attended a meeting with probably a dozen people. I was doing pretty well, focusing on each speaker in turn in the quiet room, not missing much, but very focused – imagine being an air traffic controller at a very busy airport.  In the middle of the meeting someone handed me a flier to read and I realized I could lip read/listen to the person speaking or I could read the flier, but not both.  If I can’t watch you talk, I can’t hear you. If you put your hand over your mouth, you just stopped speaking to me.  If you have a big mustache and I can’t see your mouth move, you are not talking.

Hearing loss isn’t just about losing decibel.  It is about becoming isolated.  Hearing loss contributes to depression, anxiety, frustration, and fatigue.  I am learning ASL, which helps, but only if others are around who can speak it with me.  I swear, ASL should be a mandatory language taught in high school.  Why?  Because by age 65 ONE-THIRD of Americans have hearing loss.  And by age 74 OVER HALF have hearing loss.  Only TWENTY PERCENT of those who might benefit from treatment actually seek help. Most refuse treatment until they cannot communicate in even the best listening situation.  And why is it?  A combination – vanity (don’t like to be seen with a hearing aid), embarrassment (people tend to think the deaf and hard of hearing are mentally limited) and cost – hearing aids that are good are very expensive.

However, not being able to hear well or communicate in ASL comes not only isolation, loneliness, depression, and anxiety, but hearing loss may even be a precursor to dementia.  Because it is an “invisible handicap” it is often ignored by the sufferer. Plus others think you’re distracted or don’t like them or just a doddering old fool, rather than simply not hearing them.

So, when someone tells you they have a problem hearing please face them when you talk to them, speak distinctly – don’t scream and don’t over-talk, but speak with a decent volume, and never, ever say….(in an exasperated tone of voice), “Oh, NEVER MIND!”

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6 comments

  1. As frustrating as this is for you, I can also tell you how difficult it is for the partner of someone who suffers from hearing loss. Being patient when repeating everything more than twice is a constant exercise in remembering how much you love them. But I do understand the other point of view as well and it is a joint effort to make it work. And I agree – “Never mind,” is not a nice thing to say.

  2. Hi Pat,
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m not sure I’m frustrated by “hearies” as the Deaf Community describes hearing people. I find social situations without accommodations exhausting, which is not necessarily frustrating.

    The only people who have to repeat over and over to me are people who do not understand the “rules” of talking to the hard of hearing. (1) Make sure the person you are trying to communicate with KNOWS you are talking to THEM – otherwise it is like Charlie Brown’s mother in the cartoons “wah, wah, wah, wah.” (2) Make sure you are directly in front of the person you are talking to and they are looking directly at you so they can see you talk and can read your lips as you speak. (3) Move your lips while talking. (4) Speak distinctly and a little more slowly than usual without shouting – which only serves to distort the voice. I don’t know if you have ever tried that particular set of guidelines. I also don’t know if your SO has lost his/her ability to hear fricatives as I have. I’m fortunate that my new hearing aid has changed the tonal range of fricatives into a range I can hear – although everyone now sounds different, my comprehension is much increased.

    My former husband was blind and it was sometimes annoying as hell to have to put everything back in the same place – almost to the millimeter – for him to find it. However, that’s the breaks of life – we all have adaptations to make with each person and as we age certain things like hearing and vision do fail.

    My concern is – and continues to be – that the boomer population is growing more hearing impaired by the year. In fact, with the wide use of MP3 players and people listening to music at extremely high volumes in cars that vibrate by – our young folks are also losing their hearing. So everyone should be made aware of hearing loss and that there are things that can be done to augment hearing – as well as basic steps one can take such as the 4 “rules” above that I’ve heard audiologists give to spousal units and family members for the past 20 years or so.

    Again, thanks for chiming in. 🙂

  3. I agree that it should be mandatory for all people to learn ASL, not just for our benefits, but for theirs when they are older. I grew up HoH… and now am Profoundly Deaf. I understand your point of view, and When you learn ASL, conversation (with another person who knows ASL) is so very easy!
    and @Pat, I know its not an easy thing for hearing Partners of HoH or Deafies… but it is only one person they have to do this with… for us, it is everyone… we have to ask to repeat, ask someone to write, and sometimes, we just give up and pretend we know what they are talking about…

    1. OMG! How many times have I acted as if I knew what was being said. I’m sometimes amazed I that I haven’t purchased “prime land” in a swamp.

      My oldest granddaughter’s BF quit ASL because he was “bored” and would never meet a deaf person. I looked at him askance and said, “You KNOW me!”

  4. Another great post. Especially the part about never saying “Oh never mind”. Oooh that one just burns me up.

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