What? I can’t hear you!
Hearing loss can be so subtle that it often goes unnoticed.
“WHEN did you arrive in KL, aunty?” my sister asked.
“Oh, I am staying with my niece,” my aunt responded.
“How long will you be in Malaysia?” piped up another cousin. She replied, “I arrived two days ago.” This comedy of errors proceeded for a little while more before it dawned on the assembled relatives that our 80- year- old aunt from Australia was hard of hearing.
What struck me at this gathering of elderly relatives was that each of us there was in varying stages of hearing loss. With better food, living conditions and medical advances, seniors are living longer. However, with age comes the breakdown of the body’s organs.
First it is eyesight. Fortunately technology and surgery have given us seniors the ability to see, read and observe well into the late 80s and 90s. I am in my mid- 60s and able to use the computer and read the small print on the smartphone, all thanks to cataract surgery.
Hearing loss is next in line. This is so subtle no one realises it at first. It all starts with the constant use of “what?” If you find yourself frequently asking “what?” during a chat or phone call ( at whatever age), you could be suffering some degree of hearing loss.
We seniors play the blame game, still unaware of our hearing loss in the early stages. It is the TV, telephone or radio’s fault ... the volume is low, the transmission is poor, and so on. Even worse, we blame the other person. He is speaking too softly, doesn’t enunciate well or in the case of the pot calling the kettle black, we will accuse that person of being deaf!
Finally, as the hearing goes, the voice level rises. Unconsciously we start speaking loudly. I will never forget an elderly relative who at 90 was hard of hearing. Fed up with speaking loudly, her adult grandson would stand in front of her and talk very loudly. She could hear at close range and often lip read.
One day, after repeating something twice loudly close to her face, she stunned him with, “Why are you shouting? Can’t you speak normally?”
It was the perfect comeback to his being in her face all the time!
We seniors are aware of how hard it is for normal communication and can get frustrated, too, at not being able to participate in a conversation.
Usually, seniors won’t admit to hearing loss. We have strategies to overcome this. If we want to hear some juicy gossip, we will change seats or sit with the “good ear” nearest the person. If we are staring at you, it is because we’re avidly lip reading to help us hear better. We might just sidle up to you or edge closer to you. Don’t get nervous. It is just our way of not admitting we can’t hear.
Hearing loss in seniors is not taken seriously. No one, the person with deafness or the caregiver, checks it out or tries to do something about it. We have heard horrid tales of hearing aids. It used to be ugly, bulky and noticeable. Now they are better but tend to magnify the surrounding noises so much that it hurts or distracts and the user gives it up. Hearing aids have not reached the user- friendly level of eye glasses.
Most seniors prefer not to use these aids. We go our merry way speaking at the top of our voices or giving the wrong answers. Sadly, there are some who just tune out of the totally confusing babble of voices around them. They retreat into silence and become withdrawn as the effort to be part of a circle is too great.
My late father was in his early eighties when we realised he was hard of hearing. A family discussion would be raging around and decisions made but later he would accuse us of not telling him about it. We would protest that he was there when the decision was made and we assumed he had agreed as he had not raised any objections.
He would then say, “You were all talking at the same time. I could not make out anything.”
Even television became an effort ( this was in the days before earphones). He hated the aids I got him as noisy, distracting and hated even more that people knew he could not hear. The loss of dignity was unbearable for him. It was better to withdraw and speak or listen only when someone spoke directly to him.
Loss of hearing as we age is no comedy or laughing matter. It affects our quality of life.
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