By: Dr. Frank Shepel, Au.D.
Board Certified Doctor of Audiology
SoundPoint Audiology and Hearing Center of Casa Grande, AZ
Individuals over age 50 can expect to begin slowly losing some hearing. They suffer from a phenomenon known as presbycusis or age related hearing loss from normal wear and tear. People who have worked around noise and/or those with noisy hobbies such as shooting, riding motorcycles or listening to loud music will also have additional hearing loss. However many people do not like to talk about or admit to having a problem hearing.
In most cases a hearing loss occurs very slowly over many years. People who have a hearing problem are not fooling anyone. Family, friends and acquaintances realize that there is a problem because the person with the loss needs conversations repeated, they say “what” or “huh” a lot. They misunderstand, they avoid situations where hearing is difficult, they talk too loud, and increase the volume on the TV and radio. Because of these factors, the hearing loss is much more noticeable than a tiny hearing aid would ever be. However, they will not admit that they have a problem.
Many people do not like to admit they have a hearing loss because of the stigmas that come along with hearing aids. Hearing aids have the stigma of old age attached to them and no one wants to admit that they are getting old. Another stigma is cost. Everyone thinks that hearing aids are out of reach because of their cost, but there are many levels of technology that exist, and with payment plans the cost can be as low as $50-60 per month. Size is also a concern for some individuals. Today some hearing aids are so small they are virtually invisible in the ear and others are difficult to detect when worn. Because of these factors, the hearing loss is much more noticeable than a tiny hearing aid would ever be. Bottom line is no one likes to talk about the elephant in the room!
Usually it takes a loved one or close friend to initiate the discussion which will prompt an individual to consider moving forward to getting a hearing test if for no other reason than to prove that they do not have a hearing problem. Denial of a hearing problem is very common. Denial is a part of the process of coming to terms with a hearing loss and accepting that you do have a problem and need to do something about it.
Maybe you’ve shared your concerns with your loved one about his or her hearing loss or have brought the topic up a few times in certain situations, but your loved one has brushed you off with the wave of a hand. If so, then you have probably heard one of the following excuses before, and if not, here are some popular excuses people use to deny hearing loss or deflect concerns about them:
“I didn’t hear because you were/everyone was mumbling.”
For people who have hearing loss, another person’s speech often does sound like mumbling because they are missing some of the sounds due to their hearing loss. The speech may sound soft because of the hearing loss and may sound muffled and unclear. It is not realistic for them to tell others to speak up as we all have our own normal speech volume, and it is unnatural for a speaker to speak at a level louder than their normal level for more than a sentence or two. However, blaming others for mumbling is also an example of projection and is something that people who are in denial or grieving about their hearing loss might say.
“People/kids talk too fast. If they slowed down I could hear them.”
Sometimes people do talk fast but again it is not realistic to get someone to talk slower as it is an unnatural act especially for a child. The problem arises from the fact that as we age our processing ability for sounds slows down within the brain. This is compounded when a hearing loss causes some sounds to be missed or misinterpreted. In this case more pieces of the conversation are missed, their ability to process the rest is slowed and they are unable to get enough information to be able to understand what was said. It is a complicated situation!
“Of course I can’t hear – it’s very loud in here!”
It is fact that people with hearing loss have difficulty hearing even with the slightest of background noise. Even people with normal hearing loss have more difficulty hearing in noisy situations!!!! As noted above, in noisy situations more speech sounds are missed so less information is left to process by the brain to attempt to make sense of (and understand) the conversation.
You can help out by moving to a quieter space for conversation and making sure to face the person you are conversing with. Be sure to keep your mouth visible to them for lip reading.
“I can hear everything I want to, so that’s good enough.”
Here the person is “putting up their dukes” in defense of their hearing loss. Again, this is part of the denial process which they need to work through with the help of family, friends and loved ones. Support them by pointing out in a kind and gently manner some of the wonderful sounds they are missing. Discuss how frustrating it may be to no longer hear the birds singing, the creek running, or how the grandkids tend to avoid talking to them by going to someone else who can understand them.
Nudge them gently towards accepting not that they have a problem but that they should see a hearing professional for a hearing checkup just in case they may have a hearing problem. Click here to schedule you free hearing consultation.
Signs and Symptoms of a Hearing Loss
Below is a list of signs that a person is having difficulty hearing and that they should be seen for a hearing test. Use this as a checklist. Find a quiet time to sit down and go over the list with them and check the ones that pertain to them.
Does your loved one:
- Turn the TV volume up to a uncomfortable level for others or complains that he or she can’t hear the TV when set to others comfort level?
- Seem to have the most trouble hearing women’s or children’s voices?
- Complain that his or her ears are ringing?
- Sometimes answer inappropriately to questions, as if he or she is answering a completely different question?
- Frequently asks you or others to repeat what was said?
- Complains that people are mumbling or their voices sound muffled?
- Have an especially difficult time following a conversation when there is more than one communication partner?
- Misses the doorbell or phone ringing?
- Has a difficult time conversing with others on the phone?
- Completely misses what you say or not even realize you are talking when one of your backs is turned toward the other?
- Becomes annoyed because he or she can’t understand what other people are saying?
- Feels more drained or stressed out than normal after attending social situations?
- Asks you what was said at church, meeting or social event when you get home?
- Withdraws from social situations because he or she is having trouble hearing?
- Feel nervous about meeting other people, when before this wasn’t an issue?
- Remains quiet in social situations – presumably out of fear of misunderstanding what others are saying and responding inappropriately – when this is not his or her normal disposition?
- Have difficulty hearing in public spaces like restaurants?
Your loved one might also have some medical explanations that could make him or her more likely to have hearing loss. These include:
- Having a family history of hearing loss.
- Taking medications that are known to be ototoxic – that is, damaging to his or her hearing. These include everything from aspirin to chemotherapy.
- Being exposed to very loud sounds or loud noise over a prolonged period, including in a work situation, which may indicate noise-induced hearing loss.
- Having diabetes or heart disease, osteoporosis, hypertension, is obese, is a smoker, has thyroid or circulation problems.
Having a hearing examination with a qualified hearing expert will allow you and your significant other to ask questions about the situation regarding any hearing loss that is present. Are hearing aids appropriate? Is something medically wrong and needs to be referred to a physician who specializes in ear diseases? For the peace of mind of you and your loved one discuss the issue calmly and then schedule an appointment for that hearing exam.
They will thank you for improving their quality of life.