I’ve always been lucky to have family and friends that are supportive of my hearing loss, but I’ve never taken that for granted. As a matter of fact, every time they show sensitivity to my hearing loss in ways that ensure I am included in an activity or celebration, I remind myself that not everyone is so fortunate.
For instance, on Thanksgiving Day like most people, we gathered around a huge table catching up and enjoying one another’s company. Seated next to my five-year-old grandson, we chatted while he played word games. We eagerly awaited for our all the delectables to be served in an eatery on the scenic Hudson River. My grandson has always been keenly aware of my hearing loss, and often he eagerly looks for the tiny wireless microphone I carry that helps provide hearing assistance during family gatherings.
I always bring a wireless microphone with me on these occasions, and it lay on the table next to me. Then a family member raised his glass in a gesture signaling he wished to make a Thanksgiving toast. My grandson quickly dropped his pencil and reached across the table, handing my microphone to the speaker, ensuring I wouldn’t miss a word. Then, the microphone was passed around the large table as everyone expressed words of gratitude and love. How lucky am I to have family that is so acutely aware of my presence at these times?
So I asked myself, what is my part in all this? How can I ensure I can communicate optimally in every possible way whether it’s time with family, speaking to a clerk in a store or ordering food in a restaurant?
- CHANGE YOUR FILTERS When was the last time you had your hearing aid or cochlear implant filters changed? This can make a huge difference.
- WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU VISITED YOUR AUDIOLOGIST? For cochlear implant users, frequent mappings are a must. For hearing aid users, it’s essential to keep up with any changes in your hearing. Many people experience a progressive loss, and often eventually have a bilateral loss.
- LEARN THE PROGRAMS ON YOUR HEARING DEVICE – Today more than ever, persons with hearing loss have multiple programs custom-tailored for individual conversations, music or entertainment, conferences, and noisy situations. Using a remote control, the user can quickly change programs as he or she transitions from one setting to another.
- KEEP UP WITH CHANGES IN HEARING TECHNOLOGY- I am amazed when I look back at how much hearing aids, and cochlear implants have changed and improved over the last 15 or so years. For instance, assistive devices coupled with hearing instruments have allowed me to listen to TV shows, hear on my cell phone and music is beyond amazing.
- SPEAK UP- If you are struggling to hear, tell the speaker precisely what you need for them to do to help you. Do they need to speak more slowly? Raise their voice to a certain level? If possible, can you move the conversation to a more quiet spot? Do you need written instructions in a healthcare or other setting?
- EDUCATE PEOPLE – When I am struggling to hear in a situation, I often tell people I am deaf but hear with cochlear implants. Many people do not even know what they are. Often, when I am carrying a microphone, people will ask me if I am taping their conversation or if I am a reporter. These situations often give us an opportunity to educate people about this often very invisible disability.
- LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN – Almost every person I’ve ever asked tells me they take out their hearing instruments when they return home. True, hearing is exhausting, but it seems maybe after taking a “break” for a bit, put them back in. Not only is it not fair to the family, but studies indicate using the ear/brain connection keeps the ear and brain stimulated.
- ACCEPT THE NEW YOU – For most of us, hearing loss is progressive. Over my lifetime, the hearing loss I had 40 years ago was so different from my experience at this moment, being totally deaf when my cochlear implants are off. There is a point when we admit to ourselves we have crossed a threshold. It took me a long time to come to terms with how my life changed.
- IT’S OKAY TO GRIEVE THIS PROFOUND LOSS – Yes, we grieve the loss of one of our senses that connects us to the universe. When we mourn, we acknowledge the reality of it all. But we are so fortunate to be living in a time that offers so many solutions. Embrace those solutions.
- DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS WITH HEARING LOSS – Some people have a mild loss, others have a profound one. Some hear great in crowds, others avoid these situations because they are a struggle. Some can listen to music, others cannot. Due to the nature of my hearing loss, doctors weren’t even sure a cochlear implant would work for me. So I’m gratefully for whatever sounds I hear.
- BE SENSITIVE TO OTHERS WITH HEARING LOSS – It’s not a contest. Be compassionate. Sometimes our friends with hearing loss need for us to repeat or rephrase. Sometimes friends with hearing loss struggle with speech. There can be frustrations unless friends with hearing loss stop to remember they are not the only one in the room struggling or feeling frustrated.
- KEEP TRYING – You may feel a new situation may be a struggle but is it your own way of thinking that is keeping you back? For instance, for a long time, I avoided joining a writer’s group. My thought was that I would have trouble around the conference table with back and forth conversation and when writers read their work for critique. All I had to do was ask, and the entire group happily passed around my microphone. It would have been a big mistake not to give this a chance.
It can take many years of hard work to assert one’s needs. It can take many more to realize all the ways we can be part of the equation and be proactive. But when we do, the world becomes a more vibrant and colorful place.