Staying Active With a Hearing Loss
Some friends have invited you to dinner. Your heart and spirit are tempted but pessimistic thoughts kick in. Your mind calculates the whole scene before it ever happens. The environment will be noisy and the total concentration is takes to hear will only result in words here and there, especially with so-and-so who never speaks up. Everyone will face different directions as they talk so there’s no hints from lip reading and of course the hearing aids pick up everything but the conversation. It’s easy to see yourself giving up, leaning back to watch it all play out before your eyes not understanding a thing and not feeling a part of it. People will laugh and you’ll be forced to smile without understanding. You will feel more alone at that table with friends than you would at home… and there will be a headache at the end of it from all the effort. All this flashes through the mind in a matter of seconds so you hear yourself saying, “No thanks, I’ll pass.” There’s a few more invitations, a few more excuses and friendships begin to fade. Instead, you sit at home in relative silence and ease, watching TV or movies with captions. Or settle in with a good book.
We, the hard of hearing, are afraid of being a burden on others by asking for repeats or making requests to make socializing easier on us. Maybe we heard a time or two, “It’s nothing, I’ll tell you later” and later never comes so we stopped asking. All of us have heard one too many times the ever irksome, “Never mind, it wasn’t important,” making us feel diminished so we stop asking for repeats. Sometimes we think we heard one thing and reply only to have all eyes swivel our way with a questioning look. Uh-oh, another off the wall answer that makes us want to excuse our self and hide in the broom closet with a handful of cookies. All it takes is a few times and for some reason we begin our withdrawal. We isolate ourselves and we let it happen.
It doesn’t help that hearing people think our hearing aids solve the whole problem. Our hearing is like a scratched up camera lens, no matter how much we zoom in, the scratches are still there. The first step in becoming social again is being upfront about our hearing loss. It is our responsibility to be knowledgeable about it and how it works (or doesn’t work), to learn about the technology available and find new coping strategies. It’s our responsibility to educate our friends because most of them are naïve. Most of us simply say, “I’m hard of hearing,” or “I don’t hear well,” so people think talking louder will solve it. That’s when I shake my head and tell them to hold up, volume doesn’t necessarily help. Here’s somethings I tell them to help them understand:
- I hear vowels better than consonants (sensorineural hearing loss) so every sentence is like The Wheel of Fortune for me, piecing words together. My brain goes at light speed trying to keep up or let go hoping for other clues as I puzzle it all out.
- My hearing aids are comparable to a cell phone. The sound on phones are improved these days but you know how the wind sounds thru a cell phone? My hearing aids are like that. How about background noise on cell phones such as traffic and restaurants; it harder to hear the caller, right? That’s about how my hearing aids work too.
After describing my hearing loss, others have said something like, “I had no idea!” Communication worked a little better from there so find a way to describe how your hearing loss works or feel free to borrow from above. The hardest part is being upfront about it all and advocating for ourselves. It’s scary at first but once over the hurdle, it gets lots easier. Most people are understanding once they know and want to help us, we need to give them the chance.
Now I’ll take the bad restaurant scene above and see if I can make it a better experience. Restaurants are a world unto themselves. All the tables are filled and serving people dart back and forth like a line of ants. The silverware clatter, dishes clash (which is what hearing aids pick up the most of) and music playing over the loud speakers. All private conversations join to resemble a low rumble because each person is trying to be heard above the roar. The ceiling is high and the noise is bouncing all over the place. How can we cope?
- Ask to be seated in booth or for the quietest setting if possible. Also pay attention to lighting for lip reading cues.
- If the music is over powering, ask the waitress if someone could turn it down. It’s probably bothering the hearing people too.
- Don’t be afraid to claim the best possible place for your hearing; putting people in your better ear and making sure they are in the light. I’m not shy about asking someone to switch places with me if needed.
- Ask a friend to help you with the topic. Let them know you don’t expect them to repeat everything but the topic helps you keep up.
- Or ask your friends to go at a different time, when it’s quieter such as 4:00 before the crowd comes in.
- Take an FM system. I dined with people who had a severe hearing loss who brought their FM system or PockeTalker with them and weren’t afraid to use it. They held the microphone out to each speaker so they could participate in the conversation as well. We should all be so brave.
- Ask your audiologist for a setting on your digital hearing aids for these circumstances. For instance, I have a program right next to my regular setting that takes noise level down a few notches to bearable. I also asked the audiologist to turn off the back mics to focus them forward, cutting out all noise behind me.
- Don’t be afraid to stop all conversation by waving your hands around with a smile saying, “Wait, wait, wait! I gotta hear this, start again.”
- Arrange for a visual cue for so-and-so who constantly forgets to face you or talk louder. Take her/him aside and explain that you really want to hear what they have to say. Keep your smile and be gentle with the reminder.
Then there’s going to a party where loud music is expected. Once again, everyone is talking over the music creating a dull roar. If it’s outside (a barbecue party) it’s a little easier to handle. If it’s inside (a Christmas party) it will be harder to hear. If it’s a banquet, it can be very hard. Talking to someone in these circumstances are challenging but it can be done and keeping a sense of humor intact helps. Use some of the above and…
- Be upfront about your hearing loss with whoever you meet. “I’m sorry, I don’t hear well and I use lip reading for clues. Don’t worry, nothing is in your teeth.” I’ve also been known to pull off my red hearing aids to show them off, and for shock value, I admit. The look on their faces can be priceless because no one shows of their hearing aids.
- Move outside or to a quieter room.
- Use the FM system or PockeTalker. Make jokes about being able to eavesdrop with it. Laine Waggoner used to hold the microphone to her listening device under her snack plate, keeping it aimed at the person talking to her.
- Get as close to the speaker as personal space allows which creates an intimate feeling. Because I focus on the speaker, they take me for a good listener so I get more out of them than most people.
- Once at a banquet, I had the speakers hold my FM system along with the microphone. I heard more than the hearing guests. They suggested I connect it somehow to the microphone next time to avoid speakers walking off with it accidentally.
- Take a dependable friend to fill you in on the bits you miss.
- Try to focus on one person at a time instead of 4 or 5 people at a table. I have a more success that way and keep mingling.
- Walk into the party knowing you won’t hear everything. It’s impossible so give yourself leeway and let some conversation/speeches go by. To make sure I heard all I could at a wedding once, I placed my FM on a small table right next to the couple trading vows. They also let me sit right up front so I could read lips as needed. I still didn’t hear everything but I walked away very happy for what I did hear.
It’s surprising how social going to see a movie is. Lots of people like to go to the movies and they like to talk about them afterward. Nothing to do? “Let’s go see a movie!” I went to the theater with friends and family all the time but as my hearing loss progressed, I missed more and more of the dialogue. Background noise started overriding dialogue along with musical scores and things getting blown up. If only the actors would face the audience the entire time, then I might have a chance at lip reading but that doesn’t happen often. Words jumbled together leaving me so frustrated, I wound up in tears so I quit going. I started telling others, “That’s okay, you go ahead.”
Thanks to CaptiViews movies are once again an option for me. Yay!
- Find out if your theaters carry CaptiViews. You will most likely need to trade your drivers license to borrow it for the movie.
- Be sure to remind the person behind the counter have the reset button pushed in the projector room.
- Previews are not captioned. Actually captioning doesn’t start until the movie does… and sometimes someone forgot to push the button anyway.
- Calmly as possible (I don’t always feel it but I try look it), go out and remind them to push it again. Occasionally it doesn’t work at all for some odd reason. The management should refund your money and will probably give you free tickets to come again.
Now I can keep up with all the movies I want and and discuss them with friends and clients. Other options are glasses with captions and open captioned movies.
No matter how hard I focus, I still come up off the wall answers. When people have the funny questioning look, I back up and ask for a repeat. If I think it’s funny, I’ll repeat what I heard so we can both laugh. “Did you say getting it on or getting along?” It defuses the situation. I think best thing we can do is to be less critical of ourselves. We judge ourselves more harshly than we do anyone else and we need to let that go. We make mistake and so does everyone else.
Yes. It’s a easier to stay home with our captioned TV and movies or curl up with a good book but studies show total withdrawal can lead to dementia. Socializing keeps the brain active and working properly. It’s hard work to keep putting yourself out there, time and time again, especially after a defeat.
Learning experiences happen (breakdowns). I lick my wounds giving myself time to heal. Then I think, what could I have done differently? What can I do next time to improve the situation? How can I make it easier? I refuse to give up that piece of me that loves being social, meeting new people and doing new things. The only failure is giving up.
So keep working on it. It’s worth it. Don’t forget to try socializing with with other hard of hearing people, which is entirely different. It’s less draining because we know how to talk to each other. We usually know when the other is faking it, laugh, and call them on it. We want them to understand and not be left out. The hard of hearing share experiences, technology and coping skills with one another. We walk down sidewalks slowly, talking to each other face to face and not always watching where we are going so much, enjoying the company. We know to speak one person at a time and repeat without impatience. Finger spelling can be used when hung up on a word or even sign language if enough is known. Seek out the hard of hearing, it’s a gift to experience and you won’t regret it. Find them at local hearing loss groups or by being aware while out and about.
Don’t pass up those social opportunities anymore. Find a way to make it work. You might run across someone who doesn’t want to accommodate you, they just don’t get it and refuse all suggestions. In my experience, it’s rare but we remember them more than all the others who have helped us. Let them go, life is too short and but don’t give up! Keep at it, the world is full of interesting people and there’s lots of life yet to live.