How I cope with hearing loss
I started losing my hearing at the age of 5, I’m now 36 and have a moderate/severe loss in both ears – it started with a mild loss and it has got steadily worse over the years. Apart from a few years in my early teens, I’ve been wearing hearing aids the whole time. I’ve developed a number of coping strategies, often without even realising it, that help me get through conversations with other people.
It would be easy for me to write on here that you should always ask someone to repeat themselves when you haven’t heard – in fact, I have written that before and you should ask them, but once your hearing and listening ability gets bad enough it become too much of a chore to keep getting people to repeat themselves. It’s annoying for you and it’s annoying for the people talking. Instead of doing that I:
1. Read lips on the sly
I think I’ve become a pretty good lip reader. I never stare directly at someone’s mouth as I think a lot of people get unnerved by it and I like to look someone in the eye when I’m talking to them. Yet I still stealth-read their lips, I pick up just enough from my peripheral vision to help me work out their words.
2. Read facial expressions and body language
It’s amazing what you can pick up when you watch someone closely. I often use this to work out if someone is expecting an answer from me or if they are just talking at me. If I know they want an answer and I heard nothing at all then I can ask them to repeat it.
3. Fill the gaps
I do this a lot. I might have heard a couple of words of a sentence and if I’ve picked up enough to get an idea of what they are on about I just go with that. Yeah, it leads to mistakes and sometimes embarrassing out-of-context answers but it works often too.
4. Just nod or say Yeah
I do this far more than I should. If I’ve heard a bit of what someone is saying and I don’t think it’s worth making the effort to fully understand then I just respond with a generic answer and let it go.
5. Get in early
If someone is talking too quietly and I can’t hear anything they are saying then I have to cut straight in as quickly as I can and tell them I can’t hear them. The longer you leave them talking the harder it is to tell them that you didn’t hear a word of it.
6. Look for the good places
Different places have different acoustics and people sound differently in different situations. There a few meeting areas in our office that are small and have glass-panel sides so people are close and the sounds bounce stay boxed in – I always try and hold meetings there.
7. Face people
My hearing aids are set up so that I can hear more from in front of me than I can from the sides or back so I always turn to look at the person talking – this can mean a lot of head-swivelling in groups!
8. Use others
Maybe I can’t hear the person talking so well but I can hear someone else in the group. I listen more to the answers from the other person to work out what the person I can’t hear is saying.
9. Stay quiet
It’s all too easy to lost the conversation in a group and it is much harder to ask someone to repeat themselves when the rest of the group heard OK and the conversation moved on. So I just drop out of the conversation altogether.
10. Look busy/grumpy or avoid
If I see someone I know I have trouble hearing and I don’t have the energy for listening I occasionally look like I’m in a bad mood or am busy to avoid conversation or I avoid being near them altogether.
Why do I do all these things?
I don’t do any of these things to hide my hearing loss or hearing aids, I have no problem with people knowing that I wear hearing aids – in fact, I go out of my way to mention it to a lot of people. I do it because I don’t always have the energy to hear everything I want to. It is hard work. I am incredibly grateful for the times when I can listen to someone and understand without making any effort, the times when listening is easy – I can relax then, but that happens less and less as the years go by.