Helping Others…Help Themselves as it Relates to Hearing Impairment

Suggestions for Family Members and / or Friends of those who have Hearing Impairment:

I write first about family members and/or friends support because one who has a severe hearing impairment of the nerve type needs this support before s/he can help him/herself.  No one can truly understand what it’s like to have hearing impairment of the nerve type.   Oh, they can read books and learn a lot but after they read books they’ll only understand it in their head.  They can’t possibly understand what it’s like to have hearing impairment from the heart.

It’s like blindness.   One who is not blind can only understand it through his/her thought processes and experiences with those who do have blindness; but, they cannot understand it from the heart.   This write is going to attempt to help you understand hearing impairment so you will be in the position to provide support in the best way possible for your family member and / or friends who have hearing impairment. 

Hearing impairment is a mental and emotional strain on the entire system.   If the person speechreads his/her eyes will get tired and the body feels the exhaustion involved.   That’s because the eyes have muscles.   The ears don’t have muscles.   And, they work even when you are sleeping.    In short, your ears is your security system and always on alert.  

Hearing aids and speechreading can help relieve the strain but true alleviation comes when s/he has the full support of his/her family members and/or friends even coworkers.  The following may be helpful in that endeavor:

Don’t shout.   In fact, don’t raise your voice at all.  speak as naturally as possible but just a bit slower.  Pause between thoughts in long statements.   If you speak rapidly…slow down but without exaggerated enunciation.   If you need to repeat a statement, do so, but use the same level of voice sound.  Again, don’t raise your voice.   If the individual still does not understand what is being said, then rephrase it.   Use longer words that have the same meaning as it gives them more to work with.  For example it is easier to see the word elephant but the word cat is invisible.  The point I’m making is use words with more than one syllable.   Another example is don’t use contraction words such as “can’t” , instead use the word “cannot”.  Why?  Because you cannot see the difference between “can’t”  and the word “can”.    When I was a little girl I was always in trouble because I could not tell the difference between “You can”  and “You can’t”.   They both look exactly alike on the lips.  So I just did what I wanted to do.   That didn’t mix well with my mother needless to say.  She just thought I didn’t listen.   Some words are totally invisible and so many words look the same that it’s easy to respond inappropriately  unless you ask someone to please spell the word used.

I remember when I was in college taking a course in Audiology in 1980.   Every book I picked up on the topic I found Dr. Aram Glorig being quoted.  It was so frequent and I admit I loved the things he said because he spoke so clearly in his writings that one day I told myself, if I see his name one more time I’m going to look this guy up and go meet him.   Then I turned the page and there he was again!   It was almost as if he was talking about me in some of his writings.  And, sometimes I felt he was there to tantalize me by reminding me constantly about my hearing impairment.  But I kept my word.   The teacher gave us an assignment to do research that day, so I started calling around to find out where he worked and lo and behold he had an office in Los Angeles at the House Ear Clinic where my personal ENT worked, Dr. Howard House.   I called Dr. Glorig and made an appointment to meet him and to ask if I could go through his research files.   The day of my appointment I  dressed very nicely I wanted to be sure he’d share his papers with me, a student.   When I arrived I went to the desk and asked for him or directions to his office.   I was escorted there and he was waiting for me, sitting behind his desk with his glasses drooped down over the tip of his nose.  He stood up when I walked in and he offered me a chair.  We talked a bit and I asked if I could kind of roll through his files for a research paper I was writing and he handed me the keys to his file and escorted me to the file room and told me to pull whatever I wanted.  Then he left the room.   I spent about an hour going through his writings, chose a few papers, closed the file and locked it.  Then, I quietly made my way back to his office.   He was still sitting there with his glasses on and he ask me to take a seat which I did.   I did ask him if he wanted me to return these papers or would he prefer I copy them before I leave and he told me to just take the originals and return them at my convenience; and if I could understand his writings I would know more than all the professors at Long Beach State University in the Audiology department. 

I thanked him and as I started to stand up he reached across the desk and took my hand and said, “Bobbi, of all the doctors you know, why did you come to me?  And, I said, “Because you’re an old master!”   He looked me in the eye and said, “Please spell those last 2 words!   And, we had the best laugh over that and we never forgot it.   So why was that so funny?   Well, the 2 words “old master” look the same on the lips as “old bastard”.   

I knew immediately that he understood homophenous words.   Those are words that look the same but sound differently if only you can hear!   Three years later he tracked me down and asked me out to dinner.   And, that’s another story for later.   But I married the man in 1983 and lost him to cancer in the summer of 1998.  This man was one of the most famous M.D./Audiologist/Researcher’s in the world.  He wrote textbooks, papers and more papers and presented them to the best journals for M.D.’s and Audiologists and to all the conventions where he not only presented his papers he was always the drawing card and the last speaker at the final banquet meeting.  He traveled to meetings all over the world and had friends on every continent.

Everything that has happened for hearing aids today is a direct result of his research.   And, it was Dr. Glorig who made the statement that everyone with hearing impairment in both ears, regardless how little or how much, should wear 2 aids.  Why?   Because we have 2 ears and they were both meant to be used for a purpose.  If one wears 2 aids s/he can locate where sound is coming from.   One cannot do that if one wears only 1 aid.  

That one statement at a banquet dinner got a 10 minute standing ovation.  The room was full of Audiologists, hearing aid manufacturer’s, and hearing aid sales people from around the world, and from that point on it doubled the sale of hearing aids across the country and around the world.   He was a king to the manufacturer’s of hearing aids and the Audiologist who sold hearing aids.   He was a most interesting man.  He didn’t talk much but when he did, he said something worthwhile but everyone may not like what he had to say because her really spoke his mind.   He never hesitated to speak up if he disagreed with a statement made by others who were presenting papers.   He was a man from the old world.   He was a powerful man and sometimes he could also be a very charming English gentleman. 

Let’s get back to helping others …help themselves….

Pronounce your words distinctly.  Do not cut word endings.   And, the less jargon used the easier they understand.  Look at the person and develop eye contact.   Avoid smiling or laughing while speaking as it changes the lip formation and makes it even more difficult to speechread.  If you smoke, remove the cigarette from your mouth while speaking.   Please don’t put pencils in your mouth or cover your mouth while speaking.  His/her ability to speechread you when speaking depends greatly upon how well you articulate and form your words.  No one can read lips that don’t move.   For an exercise….try to read Donald Ducks lips in a cartoon.   Believe it or not, some people do talk that way. 

Denial

If you have a family member and/or friend who you suspect has hearing impairment, it’s best not to confront the individual.   If s/he hasn’t told you then s/he is not ready to admit it….s/he is still in denial.   If one is denying the impairment exists, confronting will only add to the frustration and even anger.   Give it time.  S/he will eventually admit the problem, but s/he has to admit it first to himself before it can be admitted to others.   Respect his/her space.   The closer you are to this person and the more respect you show him/her, the more likely that s/he will choose you to share his problem with and it’ll probably be the first time it’s been shared and/or admitted.   That’s the time to really let him/her just talk and pour it all out.  

 Be Patient

Talk with the person with hearing impairment the same way you would anyone else.  If you need to repeat something, do so, but don’t cut it short and please don’t say, “Oh never mind.” or, “Oh, it was nothing!”   Give him/her the full account of what was previously presented.  It take a lot of courage for a person with hearing impairment to venture forward and ask someone to repeat.   Consider it a compliment that he cares enough about you to want to know what was said. 

Be Aware of Your Expressions

Anyone who has suffered a hearing impairment has become super sensitive to the feelings of others.  Since s/he no longer hears well s/he relies very much on what s/he can see.  S/he is constantly searching the face for ay possible clue to what you are saying.  In the process of this search, over a period of time s/he develops some reliable insight and if you don’t want to repeat a statement, it’s going to show up in your eyes.  

Don’t talk in the 3rd Person

Speak directly to him/her ….not about him/her in his/her presence.  It’s embarrassing and strips the individual of his dignity.   If you don’t want someone to hear something, then maybe it’s best to be unsaid.   Never underestimate their mentality.  They are sharp …they just can’t hear.  Their mental capacity is still in optimal operation.

Don’t Ever Answer For the Individual

Never respond for a person with hearing impairment.  If you truly want to be of support then kindly tell the individual what was meant for his/her ears and let him/her respond for him/herself under all circumstances.   Act as an interpreter, not as a mother.  S/he can respond and his/her dignity is left intact.

Inappropriate Response Support

If a person with hearing impairment responds inappropriately, take it upon yourself to get the correct message across…use humor…do something …don’t just leave it hanging in the air.  Be the strong supporter but don’t place the person in a bad position or make him/her feel badly…s/he’s already in a bad position.

 

Find a Quiet Corner Wherever You Are

At a social event the conversational background noise is unbearable for those with hearing impairment and especially if they wear an aid/s.  Suggest to find a quiet corner or someplace where there are fewer people in back of the person who wears an aid/s such as in a restaurant.   The aid/s is usually behind the ear/s and it picks up everything in back of the person but it won’t pick up the conversation in the front of  the wearer.   If the person has too many bad experiences in a large social event s/he’ll eventually just shy away and stay home alone where it’s nice and quiet…but lonely.   The hearing aid/s does one thing…it amplifies sound…all sounds.  When one wear an aid/s  s/he hears from the inside out whereas the normal hearing person hears from the outside in.    The newer aids are much better today and they are improving greatly all the time. 

Getting the Person’s Attention

If you want the individual’s attention simply reach out and touch him/her.  S/he’ll respond by turning towards you and will appreciate the gesture. Don’t use flashing lights, stomp on the floor, bang on the wall or wave a handkerchief for his/her attention.   There is no reason to tell everyone in the room .   If s/he is sleeping and you need to wake him/her to give a message, just put your hand on his/her arm and hold it there quietly for a moment until s/he wakes up, opens the eyes and let him/her focus for a few minutes before you begin to talk.  People with hearing impairment use their eyes to hear and sometimes the eyes don’t respond that quickly

after waking up from a deep sleep.

 

Introductions

Never, never introduce a person with hearing impairment and making that statement within the introductory.  Simply introduce your friend as you would others.   There is no need to bring up the topic of hearing impairment at that moment.   Introducing someone and saying, “This is my friend, Sue.   She has hearing impairment. ”   That is the equivalence of saying, “This is my best friend Tom.  He has hemorrhoids.”    Allow your friend to share his/her impairment her/himself.   That is his/her responsibility to share at his/her own speed.

Hearing Aid Limitations 

Keep in mind that the aid/s have limitations depending upon the type of loss each individual may have.   In most cases, the individual  with nerve impairment may need more communication support even though s/he wears 2 aids than the person who has a conductive impairment.   The new aids are a great improvement over aids of the past.   However, the aid amplifies sound…it does not clarify words spoken.   With all the new technology the aids of the future may do just that.  But we are not there yet.

With Your Knowledge and Support S/he can Overcome More Rapidly

Almost every individual who acquires hearing impairment of the nerve type and on the level where it hinders his/her communication skills feels uncomfortable, embarrassed and often times confused in social events, family gatherings and / or in a situation of more than 2 in the group.   Some can handle 3 – 4 in a group but when it gets beyond that, s/he will either withdraw and become very quiet or find a reason to leave early.

This partially sets up the denial state and, in turn, creates frustration internally and externally.   Once the individual realizes that his liberation lies in acquiring the knowledge of understanding the disability, learning precisely what his/her needs are and how to maintain those needs s/he will finally arrive at  a reasonable acceptance of his/her disability and the fact that s/he can overcome the handicap. 

Your acquired knowledge, support at the right time and in the right way, and your care factors will play an important role in how fast s/he arrives at that level of rehabilitation.   How one deals with any major situational change in life is directly influenced greatly by the evaluation of it and his/her family and friends reaction to the hearing impairment.  If considered a problem it may seem overwhelming; whereas, the same situation, considered a challenge may assist the individual to reach deep down inside and tap unsuspected internal reserves in rising above it and accepting the disability and embracing it.   That is the first goal to achieve.

 

 
 
 

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