When my hearing friend talked about her challenges living with her hearing loss husband, I encouraged her to share her feelings. After all, hearing loss is a communication disorder and affects both the person with hearing loss and the person they talk with. What follows is a result of our conversations.
I have normal hearing. My husband, on the other hand, has significant hearing loss. While it’s obvious that there’s an impact on the life of a person with hearing loss, there’s also an unrecognized impact on the partner with good hearing. I’ve considered writing about this impact for some time but have been reluctant for fear of sounding selfish or appearing to paint myself as a victim. The last thing I want is for any person with hearing loss to think that their partner feels they are burden. I do think it’s important, though, to acknowledge that hearing loss not only affects a couple’s communication, but that it also affects them individually. Understanding the impact can lead to effective and creative strategies to reduce frustration for both parties.
Hearing for Two
I realized that I was hearing for two when, I became aware that I was usually on “high alert” when I was out with my husband. Successful strategies help at home. However, whether at a store, doctor’s office, social gathering, restaurant, museum, checking in at an airport or one of the many other places where hearing is important or critical, I am always poised to intervene and help him know what is being said, or asked of him. There are times when I feel the need to tell a friend or stranger, “He didn’t hear you” because of their puzzled look when he doesn’t respond or appears to ignore them.
The research I’ve done on the effect of hearing loss on the hearing partner has turned up little. Most articles provide tips for the spouse with normal hearing on how to communicate with their partners. The focus, and rightfully so, is on how frustrating and exhausting it is to have hearing loss. The articles also say how one’s partner can help by communicating clearly. What usually isn’t mentioned, though, is how exhausting it is to hear for two. It’s hard to relax knowing that your partner may be missing important information or that he or she is not feeling included in a social situation. The impulse to step in and help is always there and it’s hard to know when to intervene or wait to be asked.
One of the main challenges for both parties is managing the guilt felt by each. The partner with hearing loss doesn’t want to be a burden or too reliant on the hearing spouse. He or she is reluctant to ask for things to be repeated or interpreted and the hearing spouse feels guilty for the occasional feelings of frustration. Open, caring, honest conversations on the most effective way to navigate hearing loss together, can provide insight into what each person is feeling and experiencing and help find solutions to reduce frustration.
Claudia Sanders worked as a job developer and vocational rehabilitation counselor in a non-profit agency helping people with disabilities and barriers obtain and maintain employment. She currently has a part time business as a professional organizer and is a hospice volunteer in her free time.
Over the years, I’ve received several requests for help when people with hearing loss are frustrated dealing with difficult situations.
Do any of the following situations sound familiar to you in Difficult situations?
1. I go out to lunch with eight friends of more than 30 years quite frequently. I always arrive early so I can get the best table and choice seat and, if necessary, ask to have the music turned down. My friends know I have a hearing loss; it helps if they look at me when they talk and speak one at a time. They are also familiar with my microphone, which transfers their voices directly to my ears when they talk into it. Within a very short time, they seem to forget everything and I’m left out of the conversation, except maybe with the person next to me.
At first I try to follow the conversations, but it becomes mumbo jumbo and I eventually tune out. I go for an extended visit to the ladies room to rest. But really, how many times must I remind them? How long can I keep smiling? Sometimes I just want to scream at the top of my lungs and wonder if I should stop going altogether?
2. It’s family get-together time and I know exactly what that means….trouble hearing. Everyone is talking at the same time, music is blaring, people are laughing….Yes, I can ask them to turn down the music, have conversations with one or two people in a quiet spot, or perhaps use my assistive listening device, but I am still left out of the fun of being with the group and taking part in their conversation. As much as I enjoy the one-on-one conversations, I still miss the group fun and end up feeling sorry for myself.
3. I was at the doctor’s office waiting to be called in and, as I sat close to the receptionist, I spoke to her about my hearing loss. Wanting to be discreet, I asked her to get me if I didn’t hear her. As luck would have it, she had to leave the office and a different receptionist took over. She didn’t know my needs and I missed her calling my name. I probably should have written a note explaining that I may not be able to hear them call my name, but it’s impossible to anticipate every situation. My doctor, bless him, does know to look at me when he talks and he has a PocketTalker, which helps immensely.
4. It came to my attention that I’m considered a snob because I don’t respond when people call me. Of course I explained why I haven’t responded, but their assumptions and accusation hurt.
Do any of these strategies work in difficult situations?
All the strategies these people used are excellent, but they don’t always work and we can end up feeling left out. If/when that happens, all the negative stereotypes of hearing loss, like feeling inadequate, less of a “real” person, unintelligent, defective, snobbish, etc., rears their ugly heads.
When those situations happen to me, I admit I often go to a bad place. I allow myself a set amount of time to feel sorry for myself. It may be 5 minutes, an hour or a day. But after that amount of time I have to drop my victim mentality and go to a positive place. The Nine Guiding Principles help with this.
Here are a few things that help me in difficult situations:
I keep a personal inventory of the things I excel in and give to the world. I know, when you’re feeling low it’s hard to think of anything good about yourself. If necessary, ask a friend to help you create a list of your unique strengths and keep the list with you on your cell phone or in your wallet so it is handy for those times in need.
I never compare myself to others; that only makes me feel bad. Rather I remind myself I’m a unique individuel with unique talents. As an example, most people hear better than I do. But because I must pay close attention to what people are saying to lip-read, I give them my undivided attention making them feel completely heard. Being completely heard is one of the best gifts we can give.
I refer to the Nine Guiding Principles of the Hearing Loss Evolution. These principles help me regain my sense of self-worth and self-love as it provides a practical guide for living with hearing loss.
I often speak to a friend, especially those with hearing loss as they’ve all been in similar situations and understand.
You can seek a professional counselor or go to a religious counselor. Meditation can be helpful, too.
We must internalize that our hearing loss does not define us negatively. Although it’s a part of who we are, how we live our lives define us, not our hearing loss. It is not easy to change our perspective, but it is an achievable goal, one that is important for us to live a full filled life.
How do you deal with similar difficult situations?
Pat Dobbs is an advocate for people with hearing loss and writes a blog on www.HearingLossEvolution.com. She is proud to be President of the SayWhatClub
Hearing aids are expensive and it is a bit overwhelming going in for many first-timers. Not all hearing professionals are created equal and there are some things they don’t tell us. Here are some guidelines written with first-timers in mind, so they can feel a little more confident going in.
The Hearing Test
What’s the difference between a Hearing Instrument Specialist (HIS) and Audiologist (AuD)? Audiologists go to school for 5-7 years at the university level and receive a doctorate in audiology. They are able to give a more complete hearing evaluation. Hearing instrument specialists train for a couple of years, they offer basic hearing tests and sell hearing aids. There are good audiologists and bad audiologist. There are good hearing instrument specialists and bad hearing instrument specialists. No matter which professional you see, you should feel comfortable with them and they should make you feel welcome to come back as often as needed.
What should you expect for a hearing test?
They should make sure you do not have a wax buildup. If you have a buildup, that should be removed before hearing tests. A discussion about your lifestyle and where you will be using your hearing aids on a day to day basis. A pure tone test (listening for the beeps) and a word discrimination test. Other tests may be performed as well. They will find a comfortable, programmed level according to your hearing loss to simulate what hearing aids can do. Keep in mind this will be in a quiet environment and will not reflect many hearing situations you encounter in real life. We will discuss different programming options shortly.
Getting Hearing Aids
What to expect after testing. The hearing loss professional should explain your hearing loss to you. Is it conductive, sensorineural (missing certain frequencies only) or mixed? It the loss mild, moderate, severe or profound? How will the hearing loss affect the sounds of speech for you? Get a copy of your audiogram to keep for future reference.
Hearing Aid Options. The main brands are: Oticon, Phonak, Resound, Siemens, Starkey and Widex. There are a variety of sizes too which range from tiny and inserted into the ear to behind the ear. The bigger the hearing aid, the more programming options available. There are also a variety of colors available for hearing aids and hearing molds. You can get a color to blend with your hair or you can choose a fun color. *When ordering hearing aids, make sure you have a telecoil in it as well as Bluetooth. Hearing professionals will say it’s old technology but it is useful in a variety of situations (see below).
Programming Options. There are multiple programming options available for hearing aids. Generally 3-5 options are available per hearing aids. Here are some of the options available. Comfort program, also called noisy setting or restaurant setting. These programs try to cut out background noise by focusing the microphones forward. Stroll for listening to voices side to side. Also works great in the car. Telecoils pick up a magnetic sound signal from phones, neckloops (replaces headphones and earbuds) and rooms equipped with hearing loops. It can cut out all surrounding noises (coughing, talking, papers crinkling) and focus only on the sound source.
Bluetooth also reduces surrounding sounds to focus on personal devices; the phone, the computer, the TV. Music, because we hear music differently than we do speech. Speech in Wind helps cut back the noise of wind on the microphones. Tinnitus for those who have a hard time with ringing of the ears in quiet environments. It introduces soothing sounds such as ocean waves or chimes. Ask about other options. Some people like multiple options and others like only two programs. It’s up to you.
Bundled pricing and programming.
When getting hearing aids you buy them in a bundled price which includes up to 5 years of programming and minor maintenance. Take advantage of this by going back as often as needed until you are happy with your hearing aids. You are the boss, go back until you are satisfied. Keep a list of noises you don’t like and share it with your hearing professional. He/she will be able to program the hearing aids better with specific information.
You should have 30-90 days to trial hearing aids, ask how long you have to trail the hearing aids. If you aren’t happy with them, try another brand. The different brands may ‘hear’ differently. You may have to pay for different ear molds but you should not have to pay for any portion of the hearing aid. Hearing aid brands seem to be an individual preference; while one person may love one particular brand another may not like them at all.
Hearing aids aren’t called ‘hearing miracles’ for a reason.
They will not replace the normal hearing you lost but they should make a difference. Hearing aids are only good in a 4 to 6 foot range, after that their effectiveness diminish. Though you will voices from other rooms, you still won’t be able to understand everything said. You won’t hear sermons at church or teachers from the back of the room, to work well you need to be within 4-6 feet or use an assistive listening device (ALD). Bad acoustics will also affect hearing aids in a negative way, hard surfaces cause reverberation which confuse hearing aids. Although hearing aids have improved a great deal, they can still be difficult in noisy settings. You may also have a hard time figuring out which direction voices and noise come from.
Assistive listening devices (ALDs) to bridge the distance gap.
People are happier with their hearing aids when paired with assistive listening devices. Many venues, classrooms and meeting places have ALDs available, look for the symbols below. If it has a T in the corner, it means a hearing loop is available and you will not have to pick up a device as long as you have a telecoil in your hearing aid.
Most devices come with headphones, however headphones over hearing aids might cause feedback and you may still hear too much surrounding noise. Ask for neckloop instead which is a wire that lays around the neck and plugs into the ALD or any audio source. Personal ALDs may help in cars and large gatherings as well.
All that said, hearing aids should improve your life. Some other things I might add to make your experience even better is… Be upfront about your hearing loss. There’s no shame in hearing loss anymore than there is someone using a wheelchair. Most people are good and want to help, don’t let a few bad experiences shut you down. Even with hearing aids you will need people to get your attention before they start talking, this will cut back on repeats. Even with hearing aids, people will need to face you when talking. This gets the sound to come right at you and believe it or not, you are using some minor lipreading skills, especially if you’ve been losing your hearing awhile. Number one is up to the hearing aid user, that is your responsibility. Numbers 2 and 3 are both people’s responsibility, the hearing person and the person with hearing loss. Communication goes both ways, if they don’t do their part how on earth will you ever be able to do your part? You will have to remind them often.
To those who have hearing aids already, what other advice would you offer?
Chelle Wyatt works for the Utah Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing as a Hard of Hearing Specialist. She’s been a long time member of the SayWhatClub finding her tribe and gaining valuable experience with volunteer work through them.