April 17, 2019
In the last post, we discussed how important it was for the friends and family members of those with hearing loss to utilize strategies to make conversation easier for everyone involved. While it is important for loved ones to do so, it is just as important for those with hearing loss to advocate for themselves as well.
Hearing loss can be very different from person to person. For some, it is a slow process they barely notice and never really struggle with, and for others it is a sudden change and impacts their lives deeply. Hearing loss can be a very isolating struggle, but it doesn’t have to be. Friends and family are there and are willing to assist in whatever ways possible. Your job is to let them know how.
Just like we mentioned in Part I: Friends and Family, seating arrangements can make a world of difference if you struggle in noisy situations. If you are going to a restaurant, ask to sit in a booth against a wall to lessen the amount of noise produced around you. If you are at dinner with a large group, try to place yourself against a wall and as centrally as possible. It will also benefit you to sit with your back to a light source so you can see the other people’s faces more easily. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to tell your dining partners or restaurant employees that you have a hearing loss and these seating requests make communication easier for you. People will respond far more positively with an explanation than if you just seem picky for no reason.
Another important instance to self-advocate is if you are speaking with someone and you just aren’t able to pick up what they’re saying. Don’t grin and bear it; don’t suffer through the confusion and hope that context will give you some clues; and whatever you do, don’t bluff! Even folks with normal hearing are guilty of the “smile and nod” trick when they’ve missed a part of conversation and that can lead to some strange interactions. If you are going to speak with someone whose voice you know you struggle with, begin the conversation by asking them to speak more slowly, more clearly, a bit louder – whatever is necessary for you to hear them better. If you miss something, ask them to repeat it once and if you still aren’t getting it, have them rephrase. If you aren’t sure if you’ve misheard something, repeat back what you heard to make sure you’re on the same page.
Many people with hearing loss that are in school or going back to school struggle to hear in small, noisy classrooms and large, echoing auditoriums. See if you can get preferential seating closer to the speaker and the front of the class, and let the professor know before class starts that you have a hearing loss and they will be more able to accommodate you. If preferential seating is difficult (seminars in large rooms, for example), there are a few options. If your hearing devices have a telecoil, ask if the room has a Loop System installed. This is a wire that has been looped around the room and sends sound signals from a microphone directly to your hearing aids when the telecoil program is engaged. If you do not have a telecoil, there is no Loop System, or if you don’t have hearing aids, many school and auditoriums have something called an FM system that you may be able to borrow. Similar to a Walkman with Bluetooth, you would wear a pair of headphones and hear whomever is speaking more clearly.
Communication is what connects us to the people in our lives. When we lose our hearing and do nothing about it, it can cause a rift in those relationships and we will slowly remove ourselves from social interactions. This can lead to things like dementia, depression, and a higher risk for falls (but that is another post). Self-advocacy begins when you visit your hearing healthcare specialist and get a test. Hearing aids will help bring your hearing closer to where it should be, but as we’ve said before: communication goes both ways and it is up to you to tell others what will help you communicate most easily with them. Humans are social creatures, we are meant to live amongst other people and interact with them. Do your best to maintain a healthy life by speaking up when you need others to speak up.
Another great way to have your loved ones assist you is to have them attend your hearing appointments with you! It gives your loved ones the opportunity to share their side of your communicative relationship and learn some techniques and strategies to make your communication more successful. We’ve found their perspective and support is an invaluable resource for you as a patient, and for us as providers.
Having a familiar voice is wonderfully useful during the testing and consultation process, as the doctors can dial in on your loved ones’ voice in particular. Besides that, finding out we have a hearing loss, or one that is worsening, can be difficult for most, meaning a close friend or family member nearby is the best support anyone can ask for.
If you have an upcoming appointment, we invite you to bring a friend or family member along. You’ll appreciate the comfort of a familiar voice (even if you won’t admit it!), and they’ll learn more about hearing loss, the testing process, and your communicative relationship.
Fun Hearing Fact: Ear infections are more common in children than adults because of the angle of the Eustachian tube – the tube that runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat. In adults, the Eustachian tube is at roughly a 45° angle which allows fluid to drain from the middle ear. In infants and children the Eustachian tube is nearer to 10° (nearly horizontal), making drainage much more difficult and leading to a buildup of fluid and possible ear infections. Constant ear infections can lead to scarring of the eardrum and damage to the bones of the middle ear, so if your child or grandchild suffered from multiple ear infections, be sure to have their hearing tested to rule out any permanent damage.