The people who visit an audiologist usually go because of a difficulty understanding speech. It is rare to have someone come into the clinic to have an evaluation because they primarily need to hear the sound of their car or to hear the newspaper rattle louder. Speech clarity or word understanding is what people with hearing loss request assistance for.
The Social Wall
The sounds that we make with our mouth are some of the same “sounds” that are made in the environment. As a hearing loss progresses, the hearing impaired individual will slowly lose touch with the non-speech sounds and activities in their vicinity. Background activity gives people a tremendous amount of information and should become part of the desire by the person with a hearing loss. People who only want to hear what their wife is saying from the other room and nothing more are not aware of the plethora of sounds that enhanced their life. This change in connection to the outside world occurs so slowly that people with a gradual hearing loss are not aware of the wall between them and the world.
Frustration with Sound
The ability to zero in on the sound coming out of one person’s mouth and ignore the sound from another source is inside the brain. The brain is very good at this task if it is practiced enough. As a person acquires a hearing loss this “skill” is weakened or reduced as time goes on. In some individuals, the skill of mentally focusing on one person’s voice or on the hunting dogs running ahead in the woods is severely compromised. This individual may try out hearing aids and within a few weeks decides that hearing aids are not for them. They become frustrated with the task rather than seeing it as a challenge and stepping up to exercise the specific areas of the brain begging to be re-trained. The fact is that all people have the ability to train their brain to hear better than how they hear without hearing aids. They will not ever hear as well as they did when the hearing system was normal but they will hear much better. Similar to physical therapy, there is therapy to help focus on a desired sound in a competitive environment.
Motivation to do the Work
The person with the hearing loss needs to buy into the fact that it will take a concerted effort to learn to hear and understand through hearing aids. The family or friends will not be able to do the work for them. A well-meaning family member may attempt to push hearing aids on their loved one and become upset when the hearing aids are not worn consistently. This occurs because the hearing impaired person has not been able to integrate the devices into their life. They are still struggling with the additional sound and are still uncertain of the total benefit of putting up with the sound and ongoing maintenance of the hearing aids. A family member is not able to “force” the use of hearing aids. The family members can gently point out each time they need to repeat themselves or each time sounds are missed in the environment. However, this is the extent of functional and successful encouragement. The hearing impaired person may not want to put the effort into hearing and decide to withdraw into their own world.
The Sad Truth
The truth of the matter is that many people with hearing loss become overwhelmed or depressed with the topic of hearing loss. They may identify hearing loss with chronological age and if they are already struggling to accept the aging body the hearing loss seems to push them over the top. The younger hearing impaired person accepts hearing loss more readily than an older individual.
Help for Family Members
If you are frustrated with a loved one who refuses to acknowledge their hearing difficulty or with someone who is not getting benefit from wearing hearing aids, get support. Living with a hearing impaired person requires a special touch and thoughtfulness. Your mental health may depend on you getting the support you need to maintain healthy relationships. Social workers, counselors, audiologists and primary care physicians are trained to help you find the resources to maintain a healthy mental state under stressful conditions. Don’t be shy about talking to a professional then set aside the necessary time to keep yourself happy and healthy.
By Dr. Karon Lynn, Au.D.