Sunday, July 17, 2011

For the Hard of Hearing...Better Coping Skills

  Partial hearing loss can become a wedge in a relationship.  I can say from personal experience, as a long-time friend began to lose his hearing, that spending any time with a person whose hearing loss is enough to require hearing aids can be trying at times.  Having to repeat everything two or three times; dealing with mis-communications when the other person doesn't hear key information; becoming the "interpreter" when interacting with restaurant, hotel, and shop staff.

It seems to me that hearing aids are what I'll call "uni-directional." If I'm not facing the hearing-impaired person directly, much of what I say will be lost, even with that person's hearing aids turned on. People who have begun to lose their hearing underestimate the amount of information they've been gaining by watching a person's face, their eyes, their mouth, when they talk

As anyone who wears them knows, hearing aids are not a perfect solution, and will not restore hearing to what it was when a person was younger.  But assuming that just sticking them in your ears and turning them on is enough, is going to lead to frustration for everyone who tries to interact with you.  It's going to take more than that to live among the hearing folks in peace and harmony.  There were things that my friend could have done to better cope and adapt and, from my observations and from witnessing his difficulties, I began to formulate a list.

So here are my suggestions for adaptive skills and behavior modifications to all those who are reading this and are hearing-impaired and at some level of denial about it:
  • Be Pro-Active.   The over-arching theme for the rest of these suggestions is to take charge of your hearing disability.  Don't sit back and wait for others to adapt to your hearing loss.  Don't assume that they know what those adaptations are or to what degree your hearing loss hinders your ability to interact.  Don't get mad at them when they don't understand or don't change.  Take the steps needed to make those adaptations yourself.
  • Don't try to hold a conversation while walking side-by-side.  Have the other(s) stop walking and turn to face you when talking.  Otherwise, hold your thoughts until you can get to a place where this is possible. 
  • Become an "active listener."  When someone says something to you, don't sit in silence...acknowledge it.  A simple "yes" or "okay" or similar response assures the other person that you heard what they said.  It's frustrating to the other person to say something to you and not know if you heard it or not.   If they ask you, "Did you hear me?"  don't get mad at them.  They wouldn't ask if there wasn't a past history of you not hearing them.
  • Talk less, listen more.  You may actually find that you can hear others better and follow what they're saying better, if you're not doing most of the talking. 
  • Admit when you've not heard something, and ask that it be repeated.  This is prevalent for folks who are just starting to experience some hearing loss.  Don't smile, nod your head, or agree, unless you know what you're agreeing to.  But also, don't just say "what?' or "huh?"  This is what lazy listeners say, not just the hearing-impaired.  We're less likely to repeat what we said.
  • When you ask to have something repeated and the other person dismisses what they said as unimportant, believe them, and just let it go.  If it was important to you, they'll repeat it.   Think about it...much of what you and I say all day is simply running commentary, talking to ourselves.   Spending time with a hearing-impaired person requires frequent-enough repeated comments without adding all of the running dribble, as well.  
  • Turn your head and face a person when they approach you.  For example, if a waiter approaches your table, turn your head and look up at their face so that you can hear them.  It's human nature to face the person seated with you at the table and to not look at the waiter, but I've witnessed much miscommunication in this scenario.   This holds true for all situations in business and in public.
  • Position yourself so that you can hear the other person.  Choose your seat carefully at a table in a restaurant.  Move to directly in front of the maitre d' or store clerk.  Lean in toward the other person, if necessary. 
  • Don't be timid about admitting your handicap in public.  If it helps you gain a better experience or enjoy what you want to do, who cares?   Ask for a better seat at a theater or restaurant if you can't hear well.  Tell others when you are in an environment that makes it hard for you to hear and tell them what they need to do to make it easier for you to hear them. 
  • Wear your hearing aids.  Both of them, if you wear two aids.  Don't fake it.  Don't take a "day off."  Don't assume you won't need them.  Don't turn them off or remove them because the noise level is too high for you.  Yes, the world has become a very noisy place.  Those of us who do not have hearing loss deal with it every day.  You have lived in a muffled, muted world without your hearing aids and, by comparison, sounds may be harsh or sharp to you with the hearing aids on.  But when you don't wear your aids, your friends or companions must now deal with the noise level and the fact that you cannot hear them talk to you.  Shouting at you is not an option.
  • Don't yell; don't whisper.  Learn to modulate your voice, even asking your companions to help you do this until you get it right.  Hearing aids may magnify your own voice, causing you to speak too softly; or the hearing aids may mask your own voice, causing you to shout.  Get it figured out.
  • Have your hearing checked regularly and the aids calibrated routinely.  Hearing loss is progressive and can plateau for a while, then change suddenly.  If you notice that you're having problems in situations that weren't problematic before, chances are good that it's time for a re-evaluation.

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