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Things People with Hearing Loss Wish You Knew

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Jennifer Douberly, Au.D.

For as common as it is, hearing loss remains a mystery to the many people that do not have direct experience with it. it is in everyone’s shared best interests to demystify hearing loss. Consider these basic facts that people with hearing loss wish you knew. 

1—Exactly How Common Hearing Loss Really Is

There are all kinds of everyday factors that cause hearing loss. People of all ages and all walks of life are vulnerable to it. So it should be no surprise that an estimated 13% of the US population lives with some degree of hearing loss. Of course that percentage increases with age and there are particular careers and recreational habits that increase its likelihood, but the treatment options are plentiful and simple. With appropriate action, its effects should be easily manageable. 

2—How Serious Is It 

Hearing health needs to be normalized, both in terms of prevention and treatment. Many people are surprised by how common it is because we don’t often recognize that others are living with it. It is an invisible disease: you cannot see from afar that someone has trouble hearing. And people who do suffer from it commonly learn to live with it, which often means attempting to hide it or at least minimize its severity in front of others. People often do this unconsciously. 

But even doing this innocently obviously throws off the very foundations on which communication depends. People cobble together what they assume others mean best they can from what parts they pick up. 

It is far more common for hearing loss to be detected in a loved one than for someone to recognize it happening to herself. We are so at home within our own senses, of course they are the interface through which we make sense of our entire experience of the world. How could we recognize if such an experience happens to be dimming in one way or another at an incredibly gradual rate?

So instead we are more likely to notice that your mom is always asking you to repeat yourself. Or your husband can never quite make out exactly what you are saying when your head is turned. You cannot believe the volume at which your neighbor keeps their television set on. It may be up to you to take the initiative and broach the sensitive subject with patience and empathy.  

How to adjust your behavior if you suspect that someone is having difficulty hearing. 

Focus Their Attention

—Especially when talking in a group, make sure to have the person’s attention. Do not all talk at once. 

—Cut out all background noise. No music. No TV. Turn off the fan. 

—In public spaces, always move to the quietest nooks. 

—Remember that hearing aids are not like eyeglasses. Even when sounds are amplified, clarity remains an issue for particular frequencies, especially around background noise. 

Face the person directly

—Lip reading makes a significant and instantaneous difference. Many people do not recognize the degree to which they depend on lip-reading. 

Patience is key. 

—For those who live with hearing loss, interacting with others is exhausting. It is exhausting to concentrate so closely and to fill in the perceived gaps in other’s speech. 

—Keep in mind that they are not impolite and their tension is not a cognitive or personality dysfunction, simply  the consequences of malfunctioning mechanics. 

—Be patient and be kind. Otherwise why wouldn’t they just find it more comfortable to remain alone?  

—Enunciate with intention. Articulate clearly. They will require only an extra nano-second to catch and assemble what you’re saying. 

Context Always Helps

—Use synonyms. Repeat your statements in a slightly rephrased  way to provide context.  

—Context pieces together their puzzle. If they only happen to discern “far,” it makes a tremendous difference to know if you are talking about agriculture (farm) or distance (far). 

New Habits

Knowing just these basic tips to recognize and respond appropriately to those with hearing loss should be enough to modify your behavior appropriately. And what possible excuse is there to not do so? These simple adjustments will improve every one of your interactions, deepening the potential for trust and nuanced understanding.