Improving Your Listening and Hearing Skills
Mark Ross, Ph.D.
I don’t know any hard of hearing person who, if a magic wand were available to wave away his or her hearing loss, would not jump at this miraculous opportunity. I know that I would like to be at the head of the line! But life is not a fairy tale and magic wands are in short supply. For most of us with hearing loss, it’s simply a pain, one whose impact we’re constantly trying to overcome or minimize.
We don’t approach the world as “hard of hearing” people, seeking acceptance as a separate social entity. On the contrary, we’re trying not to make the hearing loss a defining element of our personal identity; we do this, not by ignoring it, but by striving to reduce its impact in our lives. To realize our goal of continued engagement with the larger society—with our friends, family, jobs, and interests—we employ all the technological tools we can, i.e., hearing aids and other hearing assistive devices. And we use various communication strategies to reduce the inevitable consequences of hearing loss.
By “communication strategies” I mean any activity that might increase your ability to understand speech, either generally or in particular situations, not just technological solutions. Of course technology is a key consideration, but the adjustment process doesn’t end there. There are other things you can do to improve your ability to communicate in different situations. When you purchase hearing instruments, you depend upon the hearing healthcare provider’s expertise to help in making the proper decision. When it comes to communication strategies and making the best use of all types of hearing technology, you have to take the major responsibility. The concept of personal responsibility for your own action underlies the three recurring themes stressed throughout this chapter: acknowledgment, assertiveness, and communication strategies.
I’ll begin this chapter by discussing your personal responsibilities as you strive to improve your hearing capabilities, after which I’ll comment on your initial experiences with hearing aids. My focus will be on how you can learn to interpret, enjoy and expand the new world of sound to which you’ve suddenly been exposed. I’ll follow this by discussing speechreading and auditory training exercises that can help you make the most of your residual hearing. Finally, in the last section, I’ll present some “hearing tactics,” i.e., various kinds of adaptations to real-life situations aimed at improving speech comprehension. In writing this chapter, I’ve drawn heavily on what I’ve personally practiced during the many years that I’ve worn hearing aids (and I shudder to think what my life would be like without them).
The first and indispensable step in practicing effective communication strategies is to accept the reality of the hearing loss. Unless and until you can acknowledge its presence, openly and in a matter of fact way, you’re always going to be limited in how effectively you can deal with it. A hearing loss is not something to be ashamed of; it’s not a stigma that has to be hidden. Its presence does not diminish you as a human being. By denying or projecting your hearing difficulties onto other people’s mouths (“people don’t talk as clearly as they used to!”), you fool only yourself. The point is worth emphasizing. The hearing loss is there. Magical thinking, denial, not “wanting to talk about it,” will not make it go away. If you don’t face up to this reality, unpleasant as it may be, you’re condemning yourself to a life of unnecessary stress, anxiety and isolation, as preceding chapters in this book have so beautifully elucidated.
As you know by now, the onset of hearing loss is typically very gradual. What makes this situation particularly difficult for older people is that, initially, they’re truly not aware that a hearing loss may be the main reason they’re having communication difficulties. They can’t very well deny hearing sounds that they’re not aware of! This is the point where many of the conflicts between the hard of hearing person and his/her significant others first arise. It’s not so much denial as disbelief; they know there are times when they can hear well. After a while, of course, the effects of the hearing loss become apparent to everyone, including the person involved. If these are ignored, then someone can truly be said to be “in denial.”