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:
- Nancy frequently begins conversations with Eric just AFTER he has left the room
- 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)
- Nancy, at 57, no longer projects her voice the way she did when she was younger. Her voice is simultaneously softer, quieter, and airier.
- 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?