In the US, it is estimated that one out of every ten people has a hearing loss of sufficient magnitude to interfere with communication in some situations.
Somewhere in her sixties, I noticed my mother began to lose her hearing. I’d say ‘pass the salt’ and she might think I said, ‘What’s not your fault?’ She refused to admit she had a problem and even after I convinced her to get hearing aids, she wouldn’t wear them.
So when I began to lose my hearing, I decided to purchase the best hearing aids I could get (an outrageous $6000 for a pair, of which my Medicare paid zero). I thought they would return my hearing to normal. That, of course, is a myth. My hearing aids are designed to amplify and clarify but as anyone with hearing loss will tell you, they also produce a multitude of communications problems.
• Hearing aids don’t do much to reduce background noises, no matter what the experts say. Social gatherings and restaurants are hard for me. Sometimes I can barely understand what someone says even if they are sitting right next to me. (I might bluff, pretend I do by mimicking their expressions, smiling or frowning, sometimes embarrassingly inappropriate.)
• Vaulted or high ceilings cause an echo. I can hear but can’t distinguish the words so I am uncomfortable conversing or responding. Super frustrating for me and for you.
• People’s voices makes a difference. Very deep, very high, and very soft sounds give me a problem.
• Accents, especially British are difficult.
• I’m not a lip reader, but I can do it a little bit, so good lighting helps.
• I have a hard time hearing when I sit in the back seat of a car because riders naturally speak toward the front.
• Today, without wearing my hearing aids, I can bearly distinguish the words my husband says while lying in bed next to me.
Dr. Jim Wise, my hearing aid specialist, tells me hearing aids degrade over time and need to be replaces every five or six years. (Oy Vey) As my hearing has worsened, I’ve upgraded my aids but Dr. Wise’s specialists tell me they’ve done about all they can do to improve my hearing.
With all the exciting, new technologies available, one has to wonder why they can’t come up with better, cheaper hearing aids. New, more expensive models come out every year, but from a user standpoint, they don’t seem to be that much better.
Here are a couple of things I’ve learned from Samuel Trychin, Ph.D. of the professionals at the International Federation of Hearing Loss People.
I should advocate for myself. My friends can’t guess what I need. By hiding my hearing loss I miss conversations and cause miscommunication.
People who are hard of hearing often say things like, “Huh?” “What?” “I’m sorry.” “Excuse me?” These are all ineffective responses to a communication problem because they do not contain any information about what needs to be done to resolve the difficulty. The speaker is informed that a communication breakdown has occurred, but has no clue as to what to do to solve the problem. A much better response to a communication breakdown would be to offer a solution to the problem. For instance, ask others to talk more slowly and clearly and not to obstruct their mouth.
Some of my friends deny that they have a hearing loss. If they admit it, they deny that it presents a significant problem for them. That too is a myth. It makes poeple “reluctant to ask others to change their communication behavior [and] can prevent them from recognizing the effects of their hearing loss on others.”
Mark Ross PhD says: “Hard of hearing. . . is not some lesser manifestation of “deaf”, but a disability entity in its own right. Of all the confusions that arise regarding hard of hearing people, this one has . . .the most far-reaching consequences. Many government bureaucrats and educators do not like, or understand the necessity, of making this distinction. They much prefer to join deaf and hard of hearing together into one category. It makes for a much neater classification system, and precludes the more expensive option of providing a separate program and different services for both groups.
One last thought. Captioning is a godsend. The captioning of speech and sounds in real time is not always provided, even when it is vital for human communication. Hearing aids, implants, and other devices are not a substitute for quality captioning in many situations, such as foreign movies, videos on the Internet, complex studies in education, business meetings, several varieties of entertainment, and more.