How Hearing Loss is Isolating
Many people with hearing loss often suffer from isolation due to the difficulty they experience trying follow conversation. This isolation can be gradual like the insidious nature of hearing loss itself.Our high frequency hearing sensitivity typically declines first. This is usually due to natural physiological changes and mechanical ‘wear and tear’ of the auditory system as we age. Hearing loss can also be a result of noise exposure and certain chemical agents.
Age Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis)
The term ‘Presbycusis’ is overarching term to describe natural age related hearing loss. This is largely a type of inner ear nerve related (sensori-neural) hearing loss that commonly occurs with age. This high frequency hearing loss initially impacts our ability to follow conversation in any environments with competing background noise. Unvoiced consonant sounds are higher in frequency. They also carry relatively little energy compared to the lower vowel speech sounds. The consonants diminish quickly across distance and they are more easily masked over by background noise. You may hear the deeper lower frequency vowel sounds ok because their energy levels are relatively high and they occur in the frequency range where the hearing sensitivity is better.
About the Audiogram
The following Audiogram shows an example of a high frequency hearing loss in which the hearing sensitivity clearly dives beneath the higher frequency speech sounds (shown in red) occurring at average conversational levels.
The soft consonant sounds of speech typically occur at the beginning and ends of words so they carry lots of information helping us differentiate words from one another, singular from plural et al. People with good low frequency hearing sensitivity that mainly have hearing loss toward the high frequencies often perceive people to be “mumbling” more than they actually are. People often say “kids these days just don’t pronounce their words properly”. It can also give an individual with high frequency hearing loss the false perception that their hearing is good because they can hear a car engine revving a kilometer down the road even when their partner with supposedly ‘normal’ hearing can’t.
Effects of Competing Noise of Speech Understanding
Examples of environments with competing background noise that commonly pose communication difficulty include; outings to café’s, restaurants, family gatherings, sports clubs (golf, bowls club etc.) Bridge clubs, Probus meetings, Church social gatherings and many more. Hearing loss is usually slow and insidious. You may not be aware of the degree of difficulty or loss of enjoyment occurring.
They develop avoidance tendencies. This is due to negative feelings such as embarrassment. It can occur subconsciously just seem easier not to go. It really can be a progressive negative spiral into social with drawl and isolation.
Even people who wear hearing aids may still have challenges in certain situations.
5 Tips To Make Socialising Easier For People With Hearing Loss:
1. Because most hearing people with hearing loss lip read to some extent, try to face them when you are speaking to them. Avoid covering your mouth or eating when speaking. I know not always practical in every day domestic life, but please at least try to avoid speaking into the fridge or kitchen cupboard lol.
2. Make sure you have their attention before you start to speak. Call their name and pause to see you have got their attention before delivery what you have to say.
3. If after several attempts the person you are speaking with still can’t understand what you are saying, try to rephrase your sentence.
Some words are more difficult to make out than others, sometimes just using different words will make it easier for them to understand you.
3. When entertaining at home there are several things you can do to make communication easier;
a) Arrange the furniture so the person with hearing loss is sitting close to everyone and can face them.
b) Keep the lights turned up so they can easily see the people they are talking with and
c) keep background noise to a minimum.
4. If you are going to a restaurant find one that is more acoustically friendly i.e. quiet. A lot of modern restaurants have poor acoustic design with their reflective hard surfaces creating reverberation and as my mother says “awful doof doof” music.
Choose listening friendly environments
There are still some classic style restaurants with carpeted floors, drapes, table clothes and other sound absorbing materials. These are more conducive to intimate conversation. Where people aren’t trying to out yell one another in a venue that’s trying to sound more popular than it really is. A sports bar may not be the best place since they are usually very loud. Also, eating out at off peak hours will lead to a less noisy environment.
5. One last tip, even though you may feel it is past time for your loved one to acknowledge their hearing loss, it may be best to hold off on any interventions until you can talk to them in a private setting.
If you or a loved one need help with hearing loss and you’re not sure how to broach the subject please feel free to call for advise. You can call 1800 020 406 or email https://harmonyhearing.com.au/book-an-appointment/
Andrew Mackendrick (Audiologist)