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Hearing Loss
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, March 2007

Do you have difficulty hearing? Do you find yourself turning the volume up on the TV or radio, have trouble hearing from another room, miss some words in normal conversations, ask people to speak louder, pay very close attention to someone’s lips and facial clues or avoid conversation or social situations?

Believe it or not, about one out of 10 people have a hearing loss. As people age, often due to chronic exposure to loud noises such as occupational noise or loud music (and also heredity or some illnesses or medications), they often experience a gradual loss of hearing. What you are used to hearing sounds different; misunderstanding occurs frequently. How many times can you say, "Would you mind repeating that? I am not sure I got it."

Whether you are a person with a hearing loss or know friends or family with one, have patience and listen up to these Sanity Savers.

1. Listen with Your Eyes - In addition to getting used to wearing a hearing aid (it takes some time), you can look at the person who is speaking and pay attention to their facial and body language for content cues. If you see how sounds are formed on the lips, you can get the meaning ("cap" and "tap" may sound the same but look different on the lips).

2. Focus and Listen - Try to sit within 2 to 3 feet of the person who is speaking. Reduce the background noise (radio, TV) and when in a restaurant, try to sit against a wall and out of the center of things. When you have a choice, select a quiet setting, away from music, the kitchen, or anyplace that may be noisy. Request that other people speak clearly and slowly.

3. Hearing Impairment Is Not an Intellectual Impairment - Talk in a normal voice unless you know that the person needs you to speak loudly. Try to slow down a bit; not so much that the person feels you are "talking down" to them but enough so they can follow you. Get their attention by saying their name (NOT by tapping their shoulder) before you begin talking. Be conscious that you need to be closeby -- try to have them see your face. Whenever you are about to leave a room (or are in a different room), do not continue to talk. It is frustrating for both the speaker and the listener to follow the conversation.

4. Understand and Be Understood - Often speaking in shorter sentences helps you to be understood. If you are misunderstood, say what you want to say in a different way. When you are changing subjects, give the person the heads up so they can follow the shift.

5. Help Out in Social Settings - In the "what it is worth" category, dinner parties and restaurants are often very difficult for people who have hearing losses because of the dim lighting and background noise. When you are with other people, let the person know that John is talking or Sue is speaking so they can follow their conversation too.

About 1/3 of Americans who are over 60 years old and ½ of people who are older than 85 have some hearing loss.


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