by Melissa K. Rodriguez, BC-HIS
Hearing loss will affect nearly every aspect of its victim's life, yet it is completely invisible. It comes on very gradually with no warning and no visual change, often taking years to be noticed and even longer to be treated.
In the meantime, the victim is struggling to hear, assuming that the noise in the room is too loud or the person talking to them is mumbling. They blame the distractions around them or are completely unaware of the auditory input that is all around them.
Even more devastating are the reactions of those around them. Sometimes anger and frustration and sometimes embarrassment. Sometimes people avoid those struggling with hearing loss, and all too often there is laughter and jokes.
Here are 5 signs that your loved one may be experiencing hearing loss:
While hearing in a noisy restaurant or crowd is always more difficult, if your loved one slowly withdraws from conversations in these environments or wants to avoid them altogether it may be a sign of high-frequency hearing loss. Hearing loss often begins in the high frequencies because of the delicate nature of the nerve cells. The noise around us is full of low-frequency energy while the high frequency sounds are those that give us clarity of speech. (Think of the words nice, knife, night or kite — it is a very slight change in frequency that helps us distinguish one word from the other.) When those high frequencies are invaded by too much low-frequency energy (noise), it is more difficult to hear. Add to that a weakening of those high frequency nerves and understanding becomes more difficult — sometimes even impossible.
Hearing loss should never be confused with deafness. With hearing loss, sound can still be heard, it is just incomplete. Imagine reading a newspaper that was printed on a press with missing letters. It may look something like this: oday in down own Clevelan a grou of s udent led a march to ring awareness o the need for our go ernment to lis en o the needs of its ci izen . It is possible to understand the context, and given enough time and energy you can figure out that it says: Today in downtown Cleveland a group of students led a march to bring awareness to the need for our government to listen to needs of its citizens. But you must slow down and take time to figure out the missing letters. This is similar to what someone suffering with hearing loss goes through each time they engage in a conversation. It is exhausting and frustrating.
All too often, people suffering with diminished hearing will understand that a question has been asked but they are unclear as to the context. Often they may answer with a grunt or a nod. Sometimes they answer a completely different question. Remember the sentence above with the missing letters? Well in some people, their brain will fill in the blanks for them, but not always correctly. So, “Where would you like to go for dinner?” becomes “Would you like to go to dinner?” and is answered with a “yes.” Instead of ignoring this misunderstanding or becoming agitated — “I SAID…” — show your loved one concern and compassion, “Mom, I’m so worried about you, I asked where you would like to go dinner and you said ‘yes.’ Maybe we should get your hearing tested. I don’t want you to miss out on the world around you.” This scenario may need to be repeated several times before your loved one can admit to needing some help, but the more awareness and compassion you show towards this problem the sooner it will be addressed. If you ignore it or work around it each time, there can be no positive change.
Hearing loss doesn’t always mean volume loss; sometimes it is just a lack of clarity. However, as hearing loss progresses into the moderate to severe stages there is a definite decrease in volume as well as clarity. This will cause people to turn up the TV volume. They may also find it difficult to hear on the phone and in places of worship.
As hearing loss progresses into the severe and profound stages, the lack of auditory input begins to take its toll on the mind. Someone suffering with advanced hearing loss will become isolated. Whether refusing to be around others or simply not being a part of the conversation around them, they will become disconnected and alone. Often this is brushed off as part of the aging process; however, growing older does not have to include isolation. Anger and suspicion are the close friends of hearing loss as people suffering with hearing loss will be sure that people are intentionally lowering their voices and talking about them. Anger comes from the frustration of not hearing well and not truly knowing what’s going on around them. It may be directed at a number of things: their declining health, living situation, family drama, etc. But their anger is always directly related to the inability to communicate and feel connected to the world around them.
There is no other physical disability that affects the relationships with those around us as directly as hearing loss. Our connection to other human beings has a strong tie to our mental health. And yet the very sense that connects us, when diminishing, is rarely treated with concern and compassion, and more often is met with annoyance or jokes.
Just like many other health issues, hearing loss is most effectively addressed when treated early. The longer hearing loss goes untreated the more severe the symptoms are and the less effective treatment can be. So encourage your loved one to seek help early and show compassion and concern for this life-stealing disability.
Published June 12, 2012.
Melissa Kay Rodriguez, BC-HIS, literally grew up in the hearing aid business. The daughter of a Beltone dispenser, she obtained her license to fit hearing aids soon after graduating from high school. She earned her National Board Certification in 1995. Currently, she is owner of Hear On Earth Hearing Care Center in El Paso, TX. Rodriguez has been a member of the board of the Texas Hearing Aid Association and served a six-year term on the Texas Governing Board, which regulates the fitting and dispensing of hearing aids in her state. She is an active volunteer with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and has gone on numerous humanitarian missions to fit hearing aids in Juarez and Mexico City, Mexico, and in Peru, among other locations. She is a member of the International Hearing Society, the Texas Hearing Aid Association, and eWomenNetwork. Her new book, Hear Your Life: Inspiring Stories and Honest Advice for Overcoming Hearing Loss, is available in bookstores nationwide and on Amazon here. For information on the book, go to www.hearwithmelissa.com.