Part of my job is going to senior centers; to teach a speechreading class, have a table at their health fair or give presentations. Recently a senior center requested a presentation on coping strategies for hearing loss, mostly because the program director herself has a hearing loss and isn’t sure what to do. The idea rolled around in my head for about a week before I could put it to paper. There are the obvious coping strategies;
- Face me when you talk. Mostly I tell people “I lipread” these days which usually works great for me.
- Get my attention before talking. If this would be done each time, there would be a lot less repeats. Just because I’m in the same room doesn’t mean I’m going to hear you because I need to see your face first to hear.
- If after one repeat I still don’t understand then rephrase or add gestures. Gestures can be a huge help.
- No talking from other rooms. If someone wants to start a conversation that person, hard of hearing or not, will go to the other person to talk.
Those four little rules will benefit a hard of hearing person a great deal. I added a couple more that aren’t as obvious.
- Think ahead. What will you need to hear better and enjoy in certain socializing situations? Will it be taking a friend who can help you hear? Or taking another hard of hearing person who understands? Will you need an FM system and get permission to hook it up to the microphone that will be used? Show up early to get the front seat? Taking your living room loop to the Super Bowl party? Captions? etc.
- Take a class geared toward hearing loss. Find a lipreading class or an ASL class. Attend any workshop you can that has to do with hearing loss. HLAA has free webinars monthly, check them out too.
- Join a support group. The SayWhatClub is a great resource for anyone who has access online. They have email lists and Facebook groups, choose the method you like best and join. Why? They are instant support for the bad times, good for ranting about the hearing world but mostly for the friendship and role models you’ll find. It’s finding your tribe of people. Then see if there’s a local HLAA or ALDA chapter near you because being with others who have hearing loss makes you feel good. Go to as many hearing loss conventions as you can for more friendships!
I am including in my presentation 3 more items that aren’t commonly considered coping strategies as far as I know but I believe they are the basis for everything I listed above.
Get out of the closet, quit hiding your hearing loss. Get it out in the open and start telling people you have a hearing loss. Before we come out of the closet we use bad coping strategies; faking it, bluffing, talking so we don’t have to hear and the deaf nod. This may cause hearing people to think, “She’s losing it. That answer is off the wall.” And, “She’s kind of slow, she doesn’t talk much.” Then there’s the snobby conclusion, “She’s really stuck up. She didn’t stop to talk to me when I called out to her.” A good coping strategy is being upfront about hearing loss and your needs. It’s freeing to let it all out and later on you’ll realize hiding it was a lot more work. Wouldn’t you rather people know it was your broken ears, not a damaged brain? It’s hearing loss, she didn’t hear me instead of being stuck up and unfriendly. Doing this will open a new line of communication with others.
Educate yourself about hearing loss. Without knowing exactly how your hearing loss works, you can’t describe it to others and they won’t understand our needs as well. Do you have a regular ski slope hearing loss? A reverse slope? A cookie bite? Conductive? Mixed? What exactly does having that hearing loss mean to you when it comes to speech, has an audiologist ever told you? Do you need volume? Less volume, more clarity? Do you hear a man’s voices better or a woman’s? The more you know about your hearing loss the more you can address your needs specifically.
If you wear hearing aids or CI’s, how much do you know about them? What are their benefits and limitations? Do you know all the programs they offer? (Background noise, tinnitus relief, telecoil, Bluetooth, etc.) Find books on hearing loss and read all you can.
After that, learn all you can about assistive listening devices. Browse websites, order free catalogs and ask people who attend hearing loss support groups (they are the best resource). Ask for assistive listening devices in theaters, at the movies, at sporting events at church and anywhere you go. Do they have volume control headphones or captioning devices? Which ones benefit you most? Ask because while you’re asking you’re also educating other people about hearing loss.
Stick up for yourself. Stop worrying about burdening other people. Communication is a two way street. It’s up to us to advocate for ourselves and the people in our lives should be able to meet us halfway. My part is paying attention. If I’m stuck on a word and I’m doing my best there should never, ever be an eye roll, a “never mind” or “I SAID…” If you’ve done your job learning about hearing loss, then you’re armed with knowledge, let them have it! I recommend trying to be nice about it. There’s assertive and then there’s aggressive. No one likes being yelled at. Remember communication habits are hard to break (start now!) so have patience but be consistent. There are times when getting mad makes the point but use is sparingly. I made a good impression on my family after getting a “never mind” once too often by hitting the roof. They never said it again. I’m not proud when I lose it, even when it works.
These are steps to success with hearing loss. There will still be pitfalls, tears and possible tantrums but there will be less of them. Plus these steps help end the isolation many feel that comes with hearing loss.