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!”