My Hearing Loss Frown: I’m Not Angry, I’m Just Concentrating

Do people sometimes think you are angry when you are not? Or that your facial expression during conversation implies a negative affect? This happens to me at times, especially in difficult listening situations like meetings with many people or at gatherings with a lot of background noise.

I call it my hearing loss frown. I am not angry or upset, but I am concentrating so hard to hear that the work shows on my face. This can be a problem for people with hearing loss because this focus is often misinterpreted as anger, frustration or annoyance, which can lead to difficulties in personal relationships and in the workplace.

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How To Explain Hearing Loss to the Uninitiated

Hearing loss is difficult to understand if you have never experienced it. Part of it is obvious — we don’t hear things well — but other parts are confusing. Why do we hear well in one situation but not in another? Why are we sensitive to loud sounds? Why can we hear some people easily, but not others. Why must communication partners face us when speaking? Do we all know sign language? The questions are endless, as are the ways we try to explain our experience to the uninitiated.

Below I share some ways I have found to be effective in illuminating the mystery of hearing loss to the hearing community. Please share your suggestions in the comments.

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Dining Out Toolkit for People with Hearing Loss

Dining out can be a loud and stressful experience. Today’s popular restaurant décor includes hard woods, mirrors and metal, all surfaces that reflect noise rather than absorb it. A lack of carpeting and other sound absorbing surfaces creates a cacophony of sound reverberating around the space. Background music combined with the clacking of cutlery on plates and other patrons’ conversations add to the overwhelming din. Hearing the waiter recite the specials, let alone enjoying quiet conversation with your dinner companions becomes almost impossible. This is true for everyone. Imagine the challenge if you have hearing loss.

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Does Hearing Loss Cause Us to Misread Emotions?

“Are you actually angry or are you kidding?” I asked my husband recently. His posture and facial expression read angry, but it was not the type of situation that called for this emotion. I was confused. It turned out he was joking, but I was missing the subtle cues in his voice. This has been known to happen with my children as well, and close friends, and when I thought about it, probably with other people too — maybe even perfect strangers. Was this somehow related to my hearing loss?

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Finding the Person in Patient-Centered Care

The best audiologists will provide a road map and set of tools that patients can use to manage their hearing loss successfully. These will not be the same for every person, but must be tailored to each patient’s priorities and communication challenges. I share my hearing loss story and tips in this article published in the November/December Issue of Audiology Today. Reprinted with their permission. 

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