Do you hear that people are talking to you but have trouble understanding what they are saying? Is it hard for you to hear in restaurants and other places with lots of background noise? Does your family complain that the TV is always too loud? Do you need to see people in order to talk with them? Are you exhausted after sustained periods of communication?
If any of these situations sound familiar, you may have a hearing loss. You would not be alone. Approximately 50 million Americans already have some form of hearing impairment. This includes one in 5 teenagers and 60% of our returning military personnel from overseas.
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I saw them watching me. Their small eyes taking in the way I was faking it. How I laughed at the jokes I didn’t hear. The way I nodded neutrally when I could not understand what someone was saying, careful not to agree or disagree just in case they were saying something controversial. The times I avoided certain people that I had trouble hearing. Or sat by myself at a party because I was afraid my hearing loss would be discovered.
My father did all these things. That is how I learned them. And now I was teaching my children the same tactics. Avoid. Deny. Hide. This had to change.
Our hearing loss is genetic, so I may have passed it onto my children. While I hope they will not develop hearing issues — it doesn’t manifest until adulthood — I didn’t want them to feel the same embarrassment and discomfort about hearing loss that my father had and I seemed to as well. I needed to stop the cycle of shame.
When I was growing up, my father’s hearing loss was an unmentionable. I don’t recall a time when he didn’t have hearing problems, but I do remember the progression from no hearing aids to one to two. And the long sideburns he wore well past the time it was in style to conceal them. He did his best to hide it at home, at work and with friends, who slowly stopped making plans with him.
Our family was not supportive. My mother sometimes muttered things behind his back to my sister and I, telling us not to worry about what she said because he couldn’t hear us. I remember thinking this was odd, but I was a young child and content enough to play whispering games with my mother if that was what she wanted. I don’t think my father heard what we were saying, but I am sure he felt the disrespect that this behavior communicated. And we were the ones who were supposed to love him.
Maybe that is why he didn’t count on us for help. He never asked us to repeat what somebody said or rearrange the seating at the dinner table to make a place where he could better hear. He didn’t teach us to look at him when we spoke to him so he could lip-read or to speak slowly and clearly. Perhaps he did not know these tricks — the ones I use in my life today to communicate with my family.
I am proud to share my hearing loss story and tips on Mango Health.
Hearing loss sneaks up on you gradually, making the signs easy to miss. You might first notice that it’s harder to hear in restaurants and other loud settings. You might ask people to repeat themselves more often or feel like the TV sounds garbled. Hearing health advocate Shari Eberts shares some important warning signs you should know.
I first noticed my hearing loss in graduate school. Students would make comments in class and sometimes I couldn’t hear them. Looking around the room at everyone laughing at a joke I missed, I felt left out and afraid. Given my genetics — my father and grandmother both had adult onset hearing loss — I knew it was time for a hearing test.
Many people do not recognize the signs and act so quickly. According to audiologists, it takes most people seven to 10 years to seek treatment after first suspecting that they have a hearing problem. This delay can be serious since hearing loss is associated with many health problems, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a higher incidence of dementia. It is also highly linked to isolation and depression.
Take a look at the list below. If any of these scenarios feel familiar to you, it might be time for a hearing test.
1. Noisy environments make it more difficult for you to hear. Restaurants, cocktail parties, and other social venues have become challenging listening situations. You are unable to follow the conversation over the clinking of cutlery or background music. The same may be true for extracting movie dialogue from the soundtrack special effects.
Do you sometimes meet a new person but forget his or her name almost immediately or hear the specials at a restaurant only to have trouble recalling them when it is time to order? And forget about directions — was that two lefts and a right or two rights and then a left? This happens to me quite a bit. If I read something or hear it and immediately write it down, I do better, but if I hear something in the absence of other stimuli or activity, I have a harder time remembering it. Now I know why.
People are often surprised how common hearing loss is — 360 million people worldwide which includes almost 50 million in the United States alone. Hearing loss is not only for the old, but now impacts 1 in 5 teenagers and 60% of returning soldiers. It is associated with dangerous health conditions such as dementia, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Hearing loss is a tremendous and growing health crisis. Be sure you know the facts so you can help educate others.