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Things I wish you knew about hearing loss

January 21, 2016

Although this blog is supposed to be about all things Waterville Valley, today’s post is going to be about me … which, I guess, is technically Waterville-oriented since I am a member of the Waterville Valley community.

I’m “hearing impaired.”  “Hard of hearing.” “Deaf.”  “Deafened.”  It doesn’t matter which term one uses to describe my hearing loss.  The reality is I just plain can’t hear well.

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I get a range of responses from folks when I explain my hearing loss.  “You don’t look deaf.”   “Maybe you should look into getting hearing aids.”  (Duh, really?!)  “Couldn’t you get better hearing aids?”  “You should learn sign language.”  “Maybe you just have wax in your ear.”  “Shouldn’t you get your hearing aids ‘turned up’?”  “Why don’t you get a cochlear implant?”  “You’re just trying to get attention.”  “You have selective hearing and tune out what you don’t want to hear.”  “Everyone’s hearing gets worse as they get older, quit complaining.”  “Pay attention and try harder to hear.” “You’re too young to be deaf.”  “You’re rude.”  “You’re snooty.”  “You’re crazy.”  I could devote pages to the wild, wacky, and rude comments I’ve heard over the years.  I can’t even imagine the comments I HAVEN’T been able to hear!

A few facts about my hearing loss

I started experiencing hearing loss in my 30’s (maybe even my 20’s).  It wasn’t until my early 40’s that I realized how my hearing loss was negatively affecting my personal and professional life.  It also hurt.  Literally and figuratively.  Loud noises like the sound of a soccer referee blowing a whistle, a smoke detector going off, and a car horn honking caused pain in my ears.  The sound of ringing, humming and crackling in my ears was deafening, especially at night when I was trying to go to sleep.  Then, I started making mistakes at work – mishearing instructions from my boss, missing big chunks of discussion in meetings.  Finally, I sensed people were talking about me.  One day my colleague, Debbie, told me that I had offended a Waterville Valley property owner because I ignored her greeting.  Apparently, I never even heard her speak to me and she was standing just eight feet away from me.

My doctors believe my hearing loss is genetic (see what you have to look forward to, Tyler and Jenna!).  I have severe hearing loss in my right ear, and moderate hearing loss in my left ear.  And my hearing continues to slowly deteriorate.  If I follow my dad’s progression of hearing loss, then I will be profoundly deaf within the next 10-15 years.

I have two technically advanced and astoundingly expensive hearing aids (and have probably spent $15,000+ on hearing aids … thank goodness for insurance, which covered some of the expense). I got my first pair of hearing aids when I was in my mid-40’s.  I make routine visits to my audiologist for tune-ups and reprogramming.  Despite the technology, I still don’t hear well (read below for a better understanding … especially the section ‘hearing aids don’t work like glasses’).

Just because I have hearing loss doesn’t mean I can’t do my job.  I take minutes at the monthly meetings of the Waterville Valley Resort Association and the Margret and H.A. Rey Center boards.  Sometimes it’s a struggle for me to capture some details.  A while back a business manager suggested that I should step down from my position taking minutes and that a hearing person could do a better job.  Hmmm…

I try to be proactive and inform people about my hearing loss.  I am not stupid or incapable of doing my job just because I suffer from hearing loss.  I am a social person, and I try to enjoy a social life, but it’s challenging.  Hearing loss makes one feel very isolated.  I try and educate people about hearing loss … not just so you’ll better understand me, but to help you better understand others with hearing loss.

One of the resources that I rely upon for information, help, support and guidance is the Hearing Loss Association of America

Yesterday I read a great post on their Facebook page that I want to share with you.  Please read it.  I hope it will help you understand me and others who suffer from hearing loss. Oh, and thank you for your patience and understanding.

Five Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Hearing Loss

Reprinted from Living With Hearing Loss, a Hearing Loss Blog

It is hard to explain to others what it is like to have hearing loss — the lack of clarity in speech, the sensitivity to loud noise, and the exhaustion that comes with heavy bursts of communication. It is an invisible disability so it is often misunderstood, downplayed or even ignored — sometimes even by those closest to you. But it can have a huge impact on your life, and the lives of those who love you.

1. Hearing loss is exhausting. When you have hearing loss, hearing takes work. This is hard for those with normal hearing to understand since hearing is so automatic for them. The best way I know to explain it is as a game board from Wheel of Fortune. Some of the letters are filled in, others are blank. The contestant (or listener in this case) is trying to make sense of the assorted and incomplete sounds he or she is hearing and turn these sounds into a word or phrase that makes sense in the context of the conversation. Not easy, especially since the conversation does not pause while you are doing this extra processing. Read more about this here.

2. I am not stupid or rude. I might answer questions inappropriately or miss the point of a conversation now and then, but I am not stupid. I just misheard what you said. And if I don’t respond to your greeting or an “excuse me” at the store, it is not because I am ignoring you. I just didn’t hear it.

3. Hearing aids don’t work like glasses. Glasses transform blurry images into something crisp and clear restoring your vision to normal. With hearing aids, this is not the case. Hearing aids amplify sounds, but this only makes them louder, not necessarily crisper or clearer. Hearing aids also have a tough time differentiating among sounds so that background noises like the hum of the refrigerator or the air conditioner are amplified in addition to the more important sounds of conversation. This can actually make it harder to hear in certain situations!

4. I do not need you to speak for me. I am neither a child nor an invalid. If someone asks me a question and I don’t hear it, please repeat it so I can answer for myself. Doing otherwise is insulting and demeaning.

5. A few simple tricks can help a lot. Face me when you speak to me and keep your lips visible. Don’t try to talk to me from another room and be sure to get my attention first before speaking. I want to hear you and am trying my best. Following these rules will let me know that you are too.

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About Jan Stearns

I've been living in and loving New Hampshire's White Mountains for most of my life. I moved to Waterville Valley in 1981 and quickly realized why it was dubbed a Yankee Shangri-la. Once you’ve experienced Waterville Valley, you’ll want to call it yours. The great team of Realtors at Waterville Valley Realty can help you find a Waterville Valley home that fits your lifestyle and budget.

6 thoughts on “Things I wish you knew about hearing loss

  • Jennifer Saffran says:

    Thank you for posting.

  • Karen Lemone says:


    This was SO helpful. I have 2 close friends with hearing loss,
    and I understand so much more now!

    • Jan Stearns says:

      Thanks, Karen. This PSA was written quite selfishly. I’ve become paranoid that I’m unintentionally offending folks when I mishear or don’t hear what they’re saying! Someone here in the Valley once said to me, “I have new hearing aids! Everyone used to think I was an a#@hole. I just couldn’t hear them, so I didn’t speak!” LOL … so true, and I don’t want people to think I’m a jerk!

  • Pamla Fox says:

    Karen, I really appreciate your taking the time to “share”. I agree and can relate to 100% of your article. Much of the world just passes me by.. With severe bi/lateral hearing loss since birth and having been through several surgeries and hearing aids …no real improvement…but it was worth a “try”. .(even a bit of clarity would have been nice !!) I would love to have the money to have your wonderful article published on the front page of the newspaper……….so that people may be a bit more understanding of how hard we do actually have to “CONSTANTLY” concentrate to hear and try to make some sense of all the other stuff ,everyone else takes for granted. .You are right …it is hard work !!! Thank you Sssssooooooooooo Much Karen… Best Wishes XO

    • Jan Stearns says:

      Thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing your story. It’s important that we continue to share our hearing challenges with others – to help educate and support. Best wishes to you!

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