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HEARING LOSS IS A FAMILY MALADY

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In a recent Washington Post article by Marlene Cimons, former President Jimmy Carter, 91, said that 90% of the arguments he has with his wife of 70 years, Rosalyn Carter, 88, are about hearing. Mr. Carter said that having to repeat things “drives him up the wall”.

According to the article 25% of people 60-69 have some degree of hearing loss. That grows to over 50% for those 70 to 79 and to almost 80% for those over 80.   Curious isn’t it, that this is such a prevalent health care problem, yet most insurance coverage totally omits hearing loss?

Provoked by the article about President Carter and Mrs. Carter’s candor about hearing loss and its impact on their lives I decided to interview a friend that I knew had recently gotten hearing aids. Call him Eric. He’s 57 and otherwise in excellent health. His wife Nancy had been complaining about his hearing for the past 2 years. When he went to the audiologist for testing, sure enough he found that he had a gradual, early form of slow hearing loss. Hearing devices were required prescribed and delivered to him, along with education about how to use and maintain them.

Eric and Nancy, both attended a new-hearing-aid-device-wearer lecture. They continued to cling to the false notion that once the hearing aids were in place and Eric was accustomed to them; life could and would go on as before.

Some things did change, of course. Wearing his new hearing devices at home, Eric’s first question was “Who turned the tv up so loud?” Nancy was quick to point out that it wasn’t turned up. This was the volume level he had needed pre-aids. Also, Eric was much more aware of Nancy speaking to him from another room. He just couldn’t understand what she had said, which left him having to go find her and ask “What did you say?”.

Eric was the first to realize that even with hearing devices life wouldn’t return to exactly what it had been before hearing loss. While he was getting increasingly real about what he could hear and what he could not, Nancy continued in the opinion that hearing aids should fix everything.

He realized the devices really helped but he wouldn’t ever have the hearing of a 30-year-old again. This meant that he and Nancy needed to begin to look at home environmental factors that affected his hearing; ambient noise, proximity, volume and pitch, and a much greater moment by moment awareness of each other.

Thus began the real hearing arguments between them.

Paying close attention to his environment, Eric noticed 4 key factors:

  1. Nancy frequently begins conversations with Eric just AFTER he has left the room
  2. Nancy frequently speaks to him facing away from him (he jokes that it’s common for her to talk with him with her head in the dishwasher as she works)
  3. Nancy, at 57, no longer projects her voice the way she did when she was younger. Her voice is simultaneously softer, quieter, and airier.
  4. While it’s easy for Nancy to notice, comment on, and even complain about Eric’s hearing before and after hearing aids, it seems almost impossible for her to admit to her part in the environmental factors and make a commitment to do something about them.

Earlier they had almost gone to a counselor to air the friction over Eric’s hearing loss.   Now, because they have begun to fight about it, he is asking her to go to a counselor with him discuss the environmental factors in their communication and her part in them. So far she is resisting.

We’ll see what happens. Hearing loss as it turns out, can indeed be a family malady.

What is the condition of your hearing, and what have you been able to do about it that really worked in your daily life?

 

4 responses to “HEARING LOSS IS A FAMILY MALADY”

  1. Siri says:

    My mother recently got hearing aids, and after several iterations of styles, has enjoyed being able to hear the television, the waitress, and her children, who are no longer as irritated as when she kept mis-hearing them. And she is saved the embarrassment of jumping into a conversation having misunderstood the topic!

    On the other hand, my elderly mother-in-law has just moved in with my husband and me. She is very hard of hearing (“Is the television broken? Where’s the sound?”), but knowing the frustration of adjusting to hearing aids, she wants nothing to do with them. And, in a way, it is more convenient for all of us because she is not disturbed by any household noise during her long naps. It is easier for us to have private conversations without worrying her with the details of bills or schedules, and she seems to enjoy being left in peace to rest and read. When we want to communicate, we speak directly to her, and then she pays attention.

    • George Schofield says:

      Thanks so much Siri. Hearing loss, like cataracts, can happen so gradually that no one notices for a long time. Often the finally noticing comes with frustration and hurt feelings or worse, blame. Once we know what’s going on it can be – but isn’t always – easy to amend our own behavior to match what’s possible for the other person.

  2. Jari Searns says:

    Hi George,
    Sorry for the delay in my comment to this your most recent blog, but life has been VERY busy…although you already know that! Anyway I learned something very important as it relates to this topic…I believed that my Husband was indeed suffering from loss of hearing as he continually lectures me about speaking up and not whispering…well, guess what…we both have problems! As a result of your blog I now recognize that my voice doesn’t carry as it used to and that I must STOP trying to carry on a conversation when I’m not in the same room with my Husband. And I also learned something even more important. When this problem develops in couples our ages, both parties need to look for solutions and not place blame!!

    • George Schofield says:

      Thanks, Jari. All of this is why I referred to it as a family malady. If it’s true that getting older isn’t for sissies, it’s equally true that a high quality of life later requires a commensurately higher level of interdependence, smart support, and attention than earlier periods in our lives. It comes with the territory.

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