Ya wot mate? – Living with hearing loss

I’m a bit deaf. I SAID I’M A BIT DEAF. I SAID… oh never mind.

I have a high-frequency hearing loss. This means without my hearing aid I can’t hear high-frequency sounds such as birds singing, fire alarms or that beeping noise that pelican crossings make when it’s safe to cross the road.

60% of the sounds necessary to understand speech are high-frequency, which can make it tricky for me to understand speech. . It’s most difficult to talk to people in places where there is a lot of background noise like pubs or restaurants. My hearing aid helps but it’s not a miracle cure. It doesn’t just amplify the sound of the people nearest to me, but also everything else. So I often find myself saying what?, Sorry?, eh?, because I can’t hear what someone said to me.

My hearing aid is great at picking up certain sounds like rustling newspapers, people coughing or people eating a packet of crisps. I can hear every crunch of the crisps and every rustle of the packet in exquisite detail. Unfortunately that’s not really what I want to hear.

So if I want to talk to people it’s better if I do it in a quiet place where there are not too many people. Unfortunately there aren’t that many trendy bars or restaurants that are quiet, and people don’t seem to want to meet up in graveyards for some reason.

My hearing loss makes me nervous when I’m in social situations, where I’m expected to talk to people. A lot of people together in one room talking is not my idea of fun, especially if I don’t know them. If I can’t hear what someone is saying to me I tend to just nod and smile as if I understand anyway. There’s only a certain number of times that you can ask people to repeat themselves before it becomes annoying – usually three. But it’s amazing how far nodding and smiling can get you sometimes. I’ve had 20 minute “conversations” with people where I haven’t understood a single word they said, but they carried on talking anyway. But if they ask a question everything falls apart. If I misunderstand what they said I might say something that is completely random and nothing at all to do with what they just said. So then they just look at me as if I had three heads.

So I tend to shy away from social situations. If I do happen to find myself at a social gathering, I will probably be the quietest one there. This is not because I don’t want to talk – I do – but I don’t know what everyone is talking about. I don’t want to say something random because that will make me look like an idiot. As Mark Twain once said:

It’s best to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Groups are the worst because people tend to talk over each other, and the topic of conversation can change quickly, so it’s hard to keep track of. Also I need to read people’s lips in order to understand them. In a group it’s hard to predict who might speak next, so I don’t know who to look at. My eyes dart wildly from person to person as I try to work out who is talking, and who might speak next. It’s tiring and frustrating, but satisfying if I actually manage to contribute something meaningful to the conversation.

How to communicate with someone with hearing loss

So if you have the misfortune of bumping into me, how can you help me to understand what you are saying? Here are some tips:

  • Speak loudly and clearly – don’t mumble your words or else you will probably have to repeat yourself a lot
  • Face me so that I can see your mouth – I need to be able to see your mouth moving as I lipread. The shape that your lips make as you speak helps me to understand what you are saying. If I can’t see your mouth then it’s incredibly difficult to understand what you’re saying.
  • Be patient – I will probably ask you to repeat yourself a lot and if you get annoyed it won’t help either of us. In fact it will probably end the conversation pretty quickly.
  • Don’t speak too fast – if you speak too fast it can be hard to pick out the words, so just speak at a normal pace
  • Don’t stand too far away from me – if there is a lot of background noise it helps a lot to stand quite close to me. You don’t have to talk or shout directly into my ear, but just don’t stand the other side of the room and expect me to understand you.

So there you go. That’s a bit of an insight into my world. Do please let me know if you have a hearing loss yourself, and tell me what issues you face and how you cope with it. I would be very interested to hear from you 🙂


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