Elder hearing loss is often mistaken for Alzheimer’s.
An elder who can’t hear well may try to engage in conversation and respond inappropriately. People may assume the elder is suffering from dementia.
At age 53, I don’t consider myself an elder … yet. However, I have lived with complete hearing loss in my left year since age 6.
When I saw the park ranger’s son who I hadn’t seen in a while, I greeted him then asked, “What’s new in your life?”
“I just got back from Alaska.”
I wasn’t sure that’s what he said, so I asked, “Just got back or just getting ready to go?”
My walking partner turned to look at me. I knew something was wrong. I nervously asked her what he said. She said, “Same old. Same old.”
How’d I get Alaska out of that? I wondered.
I’ve had a lifetime of experiences coping with my hearing loss, which requires me to turn my head to better hear while reading lips.
Because of this loss, no matter how hard I try I can’t hear what direction a sound is coming from. It’s a similar limitation as the person who can see with only one eye can’t perceive depth or enjoy a 3-D movie. In a large space like a parking lot or restaurant, when I hear someone call my name, I’ll turn in a circle hoping to spot the person waving. Otherwise, I won’t be able to localize the sound.
These days, I try to joke about it, but it isn’t always easy. And this is why I’ve written about it — to raise awareness.
As we walked closer to the ranger’s son, I told him what I thought he’d said. He smiled then chuckled, “I wish! I like the idea.”
I wonder what will happen when I grow older. Will people assume I have dementia instead of hearing loss?
In the years to come, will I smile and try to save face like so many others who have hearing impairment? Will I stop conversing all together? Or will I talk even more than I do? If I stop, I’ll withdraw and my brain will lack stimulation, increasing the chance of getting dementia.
Another unexpected downside comes a week or two later after I’ve smiled and pretended that I heard the conversation. When someone refers to the earlier conversation, I can’t recall because I honestly did not hear what was said.
4 Tips when Talking with a Person with Hearing Loss
The number of Americans affected by hearing loss is expected to double in the next two decades to nearly 80 million. Here are 4 tips to keep in mind when conversing with a person who has hearing loss.
- We need to be aware of an invisible disability — deafness.
- No matter what one’s age, we need to engage others without jumping to conclusions that someone may have dementia instead of hearing loss.
- When speaking to someone who cannot hear well, we need to make sure s/he can see our mouth and that we clearly articulate our words. When I talked with my profoundly deaf father, I faced him and enunciated each word to help him make sense of what I was saying
- To get the attention of someone with hearing loss, we must first touch him/her. Touch gets a person’s attention faster than sound. Once the person is looking at us, we need to practice the third tip.
The ADVANTAGES of being deaf in my left ear is I can drive with the my window open and not be disturbed by the sound of the wind while holding a conversation in the car. I can also sleep soundly on my right (hearing) ear without losing sleep over my husband’s snoring or the cat begging for a late night snack.