Tag Archives: coping strategies for hearing loss

The Steps to Coping with Hearing Loss

presentation

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;

  1. Face me when you talk. Mostly I tell people “I lipread” these days which usually works great for me.
  2. 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.
  3. If after one repeat I still don’t understand then rephrase or add gestures. Gestures can be a huge help.
  4. 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.

talking

Those four little rules will benefit a hard of hearing person a great deal. I added a couple more that aren’t as obvious.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

plan-ahead

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.

upfront

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.

stick-up-for-yourselfThese 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.

Patience and Hearing Loss

When hearing loss is a factor, patience promotes successful communication. In a relaxed atmosphere a hard of hearing person has a better chance of understanding more of the conversation. When emotion piles up behind spoken words, lips move faster and raised voices distort word discrimination. I don’t know about anyone else but during intense situations, what little hearing I have instantly declines and the harder I try, the worse it gets. Patience is the key to better relationships.

Who needs patience? Both parties. Oh, yes. I’ve been impatient with others about my hearing loss. Not long ago at the grocery store, I put some beer up on the conveyor belt. I live in Utah and even though I’m 45 years old, they card me about 75% of the time. I had my 18 year old son behind me, who also happens to be hard of hearing. As I looked down at my purse to get my wallet out, the clerk said something and all I heard was, “Ow…U?”

I hesitated, puzzling out the missing pieces. Did she say ‘how are you’ or ‘how old are you?” I thought I’d go with the former since I live in Utah with funky liquor laws.

“Did you ask how old I was,” I asked uncertainly because maybe she did want to know how I am which is normal chit chat from clerks.

Her hand went on her hip and she replied in a raised voice, “That’s what I said.”

I leaned over the counter to give her what for without thinking twice.

“Excuse me. I lost over half my hearing and since I wasn’t looking at you, I couldn’t tell if you said ‘how are you’ or ‘how old are you.’ Don’t automatically assume everyone can hear.”

Right after those heated words were out of my mouth, I gave myself a mental slap to the forehead. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I provoked a scene which could turn into a confrontation. I took a deep breath and handed her my driver’s license. Luckily, she back peddled and apologized. We exchanged a few pleasantries before my son and I left.

“I didn’t hear what went on,” he said as soon as we were in the parking lot. “It looked like you were going to jump over the counter and kick her butt.”

Dang, I made a bad example all the way around. I told him what went on and let him know it wasn’t the best way to handle the situation. What I should have done was calmly explained I am half deaf and didn’t hear her. Patience would have accomplished just as much without the bad feelings. If I want people to be patient with me, I need to be patient with them. This goes for people who are closer to me too.

Even though my boyfriend and I have been together for 4 years you would think he’d remember my nuances. He gets hearing loss but he’s had 50 plus years of being around hearing people. I’m the first person he’s known with a hearing loss and hearing habits are hard to break. He still talks to windows in the car, from other rooms and talks away from me at night. Then there’s my sister who talks too fast and friends who trying to talk to me above their loud TV and oddly enough, one of them is hard of hearing.

When I hear my boyfriend’s voice (but not his words) from another room, I want to scream “You know I can’t hear you!” but those kind of words shut down communication. Instead, I wait for him to realize (again) I can’t understand him and come to me. Or I tie up whatever I’m doing and go into the other room to ask for a repeat resisting the urge to ask him, “Why do you do this to me?” Years and years of prior habit is why.

While on the phone with my sister instead of saying, “Why do I always have to tell you to slow down.” Playing the bossy older sister gets me nowhere with her and she’d stop calling me. Since we live so far apart, it would turn our relationship into nothing. Instead, when she talks too fast I tell her, “Whoa, whoa, what was that? I missed something.” A couple of minutes into the conversation she remembers exactly who she is talking to and slows down to my speed as we update each other about our lives which often involves laughter.

At my friend’s house, I stop the conversation and ask if it’s okay to turn down their TV. They turn it down right away and sometimes even turn it off. The TV is a part of their lives, their background noise. After six years of knowing them, they still forget about the volume on their TV when I arrive but they have learned to turn on captions if they want me to watch TV with them. Gentle reminders go a long way. If I behaved like I did to the grocery store clerk to everyone, I wouldn’t have any friends.

Those are some of the ways I practice patience with others. What do I want patience from you with?

Repeats. I gotta have them. If I’m giving you my full attention and trying my best to hear, please don’t roll your eyes or give me an exaggerated sigh before you say it ‘one more time.’ This little drama act isn’t going to help matters any. I promise you, I’m not trying to drive you nuts. If you don’t want to repeat the same thing over and over, try rephrasing, that helps get me over the hump.

If I stop the conversation, it’s because I’m lost. Sudden topic changes throw me for a loop. My brain is on the old track, puzzling out missing pieces when all of sudden the words I do hear, don’t fit in with the last known topic. Be a sweetie. Be patient. Fill me in. I don’t want everything repeated, but knowing the topic helps me get in flow again.

Those are the biggest issues. A few more I can throw in are:

  • Be patient with me wanting to be somewhere early. This is so I can pick the best seating. And don’t get angry when I ask to switch seats, sometimes I get it wrong. I look for the best place to read lips and cut down background noise.
  • Environmental noise and bad acoustics play havoc on my hearing and hearing instruments. Please help me hear or be willing to quit talking until the noise goes down.

Now I gotta cover being easy on myself. I get incredibly frustrated when I don’t understand the third repeat and need it repeated again…and then don’t ask for it. Take a breath and be brave enough to ask for a fourth repeat or rephrase.

I can’t expect to understand everything in large groups. It’s not going to happen so take another deep breath and let some conversation go. Trying to keep up and frying my brain isn’t going to help my frustration level so give myself permission to tune out the unimportant stuff. I need to be patient and ask questions later if needed. I deserve the same kind of respect for myself that I give to others.

Last year, my friend Kathy introduced me to walking my talk (like I should have with the grocery clerk). Kathy has a CI, wears a hearing aid and leads classes in hearing loss at our local Deaf and hard of hearing center. She recommended slowing down our own speech as an example for how we want others to talk to us. Pushing this further I can face others as I talk and get in their line of vision before I start talking. Don’t talk to car windows myself and no talking from other rooms even when I know the other person can hear. (What if he/she responds?) I can keep putting others on my good ear side until it becomes habit to do it on their own. Then I can be patient and honor their differences as well. We all have our lot in life to deal with.

If we don’t respect one another, we shut down. Without meaning to, we isolate someone. People with hearing loss already feel cheated out of communication without someone belittling us further. It all boils down to being nice to each other. We can do that, can’t we?

Progressive Hearing Loss

Progressive hearing loss creates big dips in hearing and other times it chips away at hearing little by little but either way, it means constant adaptions. Once I got used to a certain level of hearing loss, I lost more and wound up readjusting again…and again. With each drop, certain coping strategies I used were no longer effective. The same for technology I bought too.

The first coping strategy I learned all on my own was faking it or bluffing. I pretended to hear when I couldn’t understand a word the other person said. I feared being a nuisance among the hearing if I asked for repeats too often so I bluffed to fit in. I looked at people’s face for clues: were they serious, was there a light in their eye or a smile to show humor or were they amazed at something. Then I judged their tone in the same way: serious, light, harsh? Then I put forth one of my stock answers: “really” or “wow” using the appropriate tone. Sometimes, I used the deaf nod encouraging them to go on. The only time I needed to ask for repeats was when people asked me a question. I might try answering it with a simple yes or no but when their eyebrows raised I knew I answered wrong so I backed up and asked for a repeat. I was near expert at this and very few people knew I had a hearing loss, until I lost more hearing.

I lost the ability to judge tone and guessed wrong more often, massacring conversations by coming up with off the wall answers. I looked like a totally idiot instead of someone who couldn’t hear. Learning to be upfront took bravery but it didn’t take long to get over my fear since most people were willing to repeat or help me out. Bluffing is a hard habit to break and even 15 years later, I fall back on it unconsciously when I’m over tired or stressed out.

Things were all right for a few years, telling people I was hard of hearing. They spoke up, I heard and answered…until I lost more hearing. Volume alone no longer worked and all I heard as they looked down or talked into windows was something to similar to the Charlie Brown adult voices. Now I needed people to face me so I could use what little lip reading skills I have. I needed all I the clues I could get. Instead of telling people I was hard of hearing, I changed it to “half deaf.” Deaf grabs their attention and they look up to talk to me. Deaf equals lip reading. I had a higher chance of understanding what they said if they looked directly at me and though I’m no ace at lip reading, every little bit helps. It’s a skill I picked up without knowing it as I lost hearing.

Some years later, my hearing took another turn south and I had to re-adapt to social situations. I found myself sinking in rough seas of noise. I relied on lip reading more than ever and since I’m not the best, I missed a good portion of every conversation. It took a couple of meltdowns before I realized noise rendered me deaf. Now part of my getting ready for events isn’t just about what I’m going to wear, I have to make sure I leave in plenty of time to talk to presenters about my FM system and how it works. I also need to claim a seat up front so see the speaker who hopefully doesn’t walk around much.

Progressive hearing loss also means a series of steps down the ladder in phone communication. My hearing loss showed up first on the phone because there are no visual clues which I didn’t know I already depended on. My second pair of hearing aids had a t-coil switch. With practice, I figured out where to place the handset on my hearing aids but once I got that down, I heard on the phone fine as long as the background noise wasn’t too extreme on either end.

There came a day when t-coils where no longer enough. With encouragement from SWC friends online, I contacted my phone company for a volume control phone. The phone they sent me worked great because of the amount of volume I could get. (My family had to adapt to this as well learning to check the volume before answering.) Since I hear voices differently, I constantly played with the volume. For most women, I had to push the volume to max and for men I lowered it though there were exceptions. Some women have strong voices blowing me away making me scramble to turn the volume down and a few men I could barely hear so cranked the volume up. Between these two devices, I got by for several years with different pairs of hearing aids.

Then neither my hearing aids with their t-coil or my volume phone was enough so I started to hand the phone to others when I couldn’t understand the person on the other end. I worked with a lot of good people who helped me, taking over the calls without complaining. At that time, the other only other option would have been a TTY which wasn’t exactly what I needed either.

Relay services on the web in conjunction with my cell phone made phone calls easier again but it wasn’t a viable option at work. At home, it took away spontaneity. I had to plan calls. I had to leave messages with people telling them text me or to go ahead and call and leave a clear message, I would call back via relay. Some businesses never bothered calling back.

Trying out all technology available, I bought a uDirect (similar to an iCom) to work with my cell phone. I hear decently enough on it to pick up about half of what’s said. Half is easier to puzzle out especially if I know what they are calling for. As soon as I get a name, I enter it into my cell phone so when they call again, I don’t have to puzzle out just who is calling. Again, there’s no spontaneity. I wear my uDirect at work, the salon, to accept calls but if I’m not at work and my phone rings, I can’t scramble fast enough to put it all together to take the call. Other times my uDirect battery dies and the phone becomes useless unless someone texts. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the hearing world adjusted to my needs and texted me only? Someday that might just happen because I’m sure at some point I’ll lose the ability to talk on the phone at all. I haven’t lost the phone completely yet, but that is coming I’ll have to adjust to caption phones only.

While I still have some ability, for a long time I lost going to the movies. I grew up going to the movies, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Star Wars, Disney movies like The Apple Dumpling Gang. The movie industry made money from me until my hearing loss interfered. I started being choosy about which movies I saw because too often I missed the punchline or key words in dialog. It’s irritated me when everyone laughed and I have no idea what was said.

Because of SWC, I found out what an ALD (assistive listening device) symbol looked like and when I saw the sign in the ticket window at our new theater, I asked for one. They had infra-red headphones, with big padded ears and volume control and they worked great for me! I didn’t like the conspicuous little red dot shining like a beacon behind my head but I got over it. That year I saw every movie up for an academy award.

ald

A few years later I moved and the theaters in my new city didn’t have the nice big padded earphones. They had the little headphones that sat on top of the ear canal. One theater had one-sided headphones, like pick my best or worst ear??? They didn’t help the tiniest bit and I missed dialog, plot and jokes so I gave up going to the movies all together.

I missed going to the movies and so did my family. I tried keeping track and waiting for movies to come out on DVD but soon I lost interest. It wasn’t the same as seeing it on the big screen. I lost track of actors and actresses. Ten years went by before CaptiView, Sony caption glasses and open captioned showings came about letting me back into the movies again. The funny thing is, I got so used to not going to the movies that I forget the option is there again. Slowly, I’m getting around to movies again and I love it.

We aren’t the only ones to adapt, our family learns to change with our hearing too. They can’t talk from other rooms and need to face us when talking. They take or make phone calls for us and they learn to text. They learn to be on one side of us to be in the ‘better’ ear. If they want to be social, they need to help us out a little. They leave the captions on the television all the time. They let us know when the tea kettle is whistling and when we left the water running. Maybe they learn a little sign language along with us. Hopefully they do all this with patience.

Lots of emotions accompany each change too. The whole grieving process can be applied; denial, depression, anger and frustration trying to figure out how to make things work again. I see my partner’s helplessness as I break down, anger when things don’t go as planned because I can’t hear and how much he missed movies too. It doesn’t only affect the one with hearing loss.

The one sure thing in life is change and my hearing will do that. Someday I won’t have the phone at all except for email and texting and I might not be able to understand the person in front of me. First I’ll throw a fit and then I’ll do what I gotta do. It’s not the end of the world, just another way of doing things, again.

9 hours average

I went to see my audiologist again while in Salt Lake earlier this week (back in AZ now).  I logged in on a total of 577 hours with my hearing aids since I last saw him.  It averaged out to 9 hours a day.  I said something like, “Not ten yet but I’m working on it.”  He said he was thrilled and “I’m not going to split hairs with you. That’s great! You were only averaging 3 hours a day the last time.”

So he turned up my hearing aids a bit. He told me he only turned them up a tiny bit but it sure seems like a lot to me. I spend a lot of time in my noisy environment program. I can hear my cat meow a lot more. He is a talker! I even heard him from behind me while we were driving down the road. (He stays with my mom when I’m gone for an extended time.) It’s nice to hear him. I mostly lip read my cat before this current audiologist reprogrammed my hearing aids.

I think I hear more birds too. I’m at the city library now and I’m amazed at all the noise in here, even in my less volume noise program. Aren’t libraries supposed to be quiet?  I had to ask my mom to not talk as loud as she normally does.

When I take my hearing aids out, I really do feel nearly deaf. I’m shocked each time how little I do hear even though in a way the quiet is welcome.

I asked my audiologist to make me a note for Motor Vehicle Division here to add to my driver’s license, a note saying I’m hard of  hearing since the MVD won’t take my word for it. This way, if I’m ever pulled over or in an accident, the police or emergency people know what to expect.  He was happy to write one up for me and put in it I have a moderate to profound hearing loss.  I do? I didn’t know I was that bad.  I thought it was mild to profound.

This makes me wonder at how well I do in the world. I feel like I get along fine but how much struggle do I put into hearing without knowing it?