A Unique Disability

Recently a patient told us a story that was intended as humor but carried a sad undertone. He has been dealing with hearing loss since leaving the military. Over the years his hearing has decreased slowly. His wife and family have been with him over 40 years. The patient said, “You know, hearing loss is supposed to be a disability, but it’s the only disability you can get yelled at for.” His wife and children regularly scold him for not hearing them. While they understand he does not have good hearing, they still yell at him if he does not hear them correctly.

Is this a normal state of affairs? Unfortunately, we hear these stories far too often. It is difficult enough to be partially deprived of one of your main senses. So much of the world is brought in through our ears. Hard of hearing people are hearing people who have lost most of their hearing. They are not deaf people, who have their own systems of communication. Although it can be frustrating to communicate with the hearing impaired, we need to be aware of our responses. Our reactions to others create barriers to communication. And little in life is more important than communication.

I would encourage people with normal hearing to try spending a day with cotton in your ears. This simple exercise may help you appreciate the difficulty the hearing impaired have on a daily basis. Do not drive with plugged ears, however, try this for all communication. You may realize that it is not your fault you are asking people to repeat what they say.

Good strategies are key to communication with the hearing impaired. The impaired listener should be wearing his or her hearing aids whenever necessary. Make sure you can see each other at all times you are speaking. Maintain a close enough distance. Talking from another room will not work. Minimize background noise. Speak in turn. With elderly people, speak slowly and clearly. Screaming will not work. It takes two people to have a conversation.

Please have patience with those that have hearing loss. They want good communication as much as you do. Find the strategies that work best for you and your family. As always, we wish to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.