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A Hearing Loss Journey: I can still hear a lot...but I don't understand what you just said!

Posted by Sherry Whitfield on

My main focus in this blog is on spiritual awareness and using various tools to support one's journey. However, I am also focused on practical spirituality; that is spirituality that is lived and a part of everyday life. Do you 'walk your talk?'
For several years I have written and edited a number of articles with information about hearing loss in adults. I woke up this morning and decided to write a little bit about hearing loss here - and to share an article I wrote for the Adult Loss of Hearing Association's newsletter and website. 
During the Holiday season there are lots of (noisy) gatherings and it can be especially challenging for someone with hearing loss to understand what's going on around them. It's a kind (and spiritual) thing to include loved ones who are struggling to hear and understand. 

Hearing loss is an invisible disability.  There is also often a stigma associated with it. People don't want others to know they are having difficulty understanding or that they wear hearing aids, maybe fearing they look old. Or they don't want to admit they can't figure out what you just said, maybe fearing they are 'losing it'  - or fearing that you think they are...
Approximately 17% of adults are affected by hearing loss to one degree or another.  That's almost one in five people. Many of those millions are saying to themselves that they are doing fine, and they can wait to gets aids. Even mild loss can make it difficult to understand conversations in a noisy environment (like restaurants) AND there are other health issues associated with even mild hearing loss that most people don't know about.
Hearing loss can affect your balance and cause serious fall issues. There is also solid research showing that it has an impact on cognitive function - your brain is using a lot of its resources trying to understand sounds. 
Wearing hearing aids can help you to communicate and they can also take a load off of the auditory centers of the brains. But aids are not like glasses.  They cannot correct back to normal.  Also, they work best within 3-6 feet. You have to give yourself time to get used to them and to let your brain adjust to more input. 

Hearing loss can be isolating. It's easy to just give up trying to figure out a conversation and sit there and nod or smile - or fall asleep - without knowing what's being said.  It's not easy to lose your hearing - and it's not always easy to live with someone who has However, there are coping strategies you and your loved ones can use to communicate better. You can actually become closer when you learn how to work together.

Simple Ways To Communicate Better With Anyone With Hearing Loss:
-First, gain their attention. Missing the beginning of the message can make understanding very difficult.
-Keep hands away from your face, avoid talking with food or gum in your mouth.
-Face the person directly and, if possible at same eye level. Give the listener every chance to see your whole face.
-Good lighting is important, but make sure that light is not shining in the listener’s eyes.
-Speak clearly, but don’t shout.
-Reduce background noise: turn off the radio or television and or move to a quieter place.
-If you’re not making yourself understood, don't just repeat the same thing! Use different words and find a different way of saying the same thing.
-Avoid trying to have conversations from another room! 
-Be patient. 
Persons with hearing loss need some patience and understanding with themselves - and from their family and friends. .

And finally - a good attitude can make all the difference.
Looking at what you can't do anymore is depressing. It's also a fact of life that everyone will have to deal with at some point. We age, we get injured...circumstances in life change. Maybe things we loved doing are not possible anymore, whether it's hearing a concert or climbing a mountain. But we can do something - usually many some things. Focusing on what I can still do is one of my best and favorite coping strategies. I have several disabilities and I could - and can - easily sit and think about the many things I can't do anymore.There are lots of things I want to do that I can't do anymore -and there are times it gets to me. I allow my feelings when they come up, but I refuse to stay in them. I know that it helps me to re-focus and to be grateful for what I CAN do. I get up and go do one of the many things that I am still able to do. Even if that is just leaving the house and going out into the desert to meditate and pray. 

This is practical spirituality. 

In that vein, here is the article I wrote about gratitude and my hearing loss.

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"I can still hear a lot...but I don't understand what you just said!"

Family gatherings and  other social events can be challenging for those of us with hearing loss.  It's easy for me to get overwhelmed with the clamor - and it's easy to put my focus on how difficult it can be to hear and understand what's going on around me. It often seems that there is just a constant and tiring effort required to communicate with others.  It's all too easy for me to slip into negative ways of thinking. When you're hard of hearing, sometimes you can get stuck on the depressing aspects of it.
For example:

I get tired of having to repeat the same things over and over.  Like everyone else with hearing loss, I find myself saying: "Please face me when you speak."  "Please face me!"  Please LOOK at me!"  
Or "You don't need to raise your voice or yell at me when you're talking to me, just slow it down a bit!"  
And let's not forget  "Please don't talk to me when you are walking away from me,  or yell at me from another room!"

I don't always follow the dinner conversation at home, in groups, or in restaurants. If the television is on and someone is trying to talk to me, I usually have difficulty understanding them. Any kind of background noise can make it hard to figure out what people are saying.

I have to use closed captions on the TV in order to understand what is going on. Those captions can be wildly inaccurate or weird! They also cover up things that my husband is trying to see on the screen.

I have to be extra careful brushing my hair because the brush can easily hang up on one of my very expensive hearing aids - and make it go flying across the room or into the trashcan - or even the toilet!!
Et cetera, et cetera...

But these are really small annoyances. I need, and want, to re-focus - to remember the fact that, overall,  my hearing aids have helped me to connect better with other people and with all of the life that goes on around me. Whatever inconveniences they may cause, my hearing aids have been worth every penny - and every irritation - because they have improved my quality of life.  I communicate better with my friends and family, at work and in my everyday life.

At our weekly peer support group at the Adult Loss Of Hearing Association (ALOHA) we often discuss the fact that many of us do still hear a lot of sounds - but we don't always understand what we are hearing.  Understanding human speech is the biggest challenge of all, for most of us.  

Until I started going to the support groups at ALOHA I hadn't realized that there were other things that could help me to understand better. I have properly programmed hearing aids, but I've learned other strategies and found some tools that can be very helpful.

Maybe the most useful for me, personally, has been Speechreading.  The eight week class I took made a HUGE difference to me.  It used to be called "Lip Reading" but "Speechreading"  is a more accurate term, as reading speech includes more than the lips. Only about 20-30% of speech is visible on the lips, so you learn to pay close attention to the context of the conversation and watch the shape of the lips, as well as facial expressions and other body language.  I learned where to sit in rooms and restaurants so it's easier to watch people's faces when they talk and where there is less noise behind me. I use Speechreading extensively, daily, and it adds a lot to my overall comprehension. Yes, I still miss out on some things that are going on but I get a lot more than I used to.

There are also various kinds of amplification and/or assistive listening devices available to me, such as caption phones,  inductive listening loops (which are used with the telecoils in hearing aids), Pocket Talkers and other personal devices that connect to microphones and other things through our hearing aids.  They help me to hear and comprehend better in a variety of situations.

Thanks to some of these devices,  I can go to a movie again and enjoy the film, just like anyone else. I check out a personal neckloop at the main ticket counter and it  connects directly to the telecoils in my aids. This setup brings the sound directly into my ears,  to be processed by my aids. I also use a captioning device in the theater that sits in the drink holder.  If I miss a word through the neckloop, I can read it on the device.  It's great! There is more technology developed every year and I try to educate myself on it so I can figure out what might be useful.

Instead of putting my focus on what I can't hear or don't understand in the coming year, I am reminding myself to be grateful for what sounds I DO hear, no matter how much - or how little - that may be.  
I am reminding myself that I may need to repeat myself and to speak up when I need someone to look at me.  I'm going to try to be a little more patient and not take it personally when a loved one forgets that I can't understand them like I used to. 

A person who experiences hearing loss goes on a very personal journey. The journey is unique to them, but the emotions are not. Many others have felt similar feelings of withdrawal, isolation, depression, frustration and even anger or fear.  Not being able to hear and understand what is going on around me can be overwhelming.  At times, I feel alone. That reminds me of how thankful I am for my friends at the weekly ALOHA peer support group. I've found others who are on a similar journey and who understand the challenges I face.  These generous souls have made my own journey with hearing loss less lonely - and easier to deal with - on so many levels.  

Many of us cannot hear the gentle fall of rain anymore - or even the crash of thunder. We may miss out on all or most of a symphony orchestra, or the voice of a small child singing or telling us about their day. We may not be able to enjoy a poetry reading or a sports announcer anymore.  However, we can focus on educating ourselves about what's available to us so that we can try out what might be useful to us.  We can learn simple coping strategies and find out what new technological options are available.  There are things we can do to help ourselves to make the most of what we are still able to hear.  For instance, I can move to a quieter place amidst the pandemonium - and then with the help of my hearing aids (and maybe other assistive listening devices)  I can have a conversation with just about anyone - as long as they look at me!

 


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