Patience took on a whole new meaning during the pandemic. Who could imagine that staying home would be so stressful? We doubt we are alone in feeling busier than we were pre-pandemic, or maybe it's just that it's still hard to get away and release all that pent-up energy. Families have been tested in so many ways, nerves are frayed, and those with hearing challenges are working extra hard to hear through the chaos.
We have had to learn to listen — and hear — in entirely new ways, whether on a taxing Zoom meeting with kids screaming in the background, walking with a friend while masked, or as our children break into tears over their frustration with remote learning or missing their friends. The way we hear impacts our ability to communicate and maintain healthy relationships. Misunderstandings can negatively impact those relationships.
Listening and having a meaningful role in work and household conversations can be especially problematic for people who are experiencing hearing challenges, particularly in loud environments. Without really understanding, caregivers and loved ones can easily lose their patience and cause further frustration to those who are having difficulty with hearing.
Insistence, lecturing, and browbeating will only make communication problems worse. For those living with the hard-of-hearing, Richard E. Carmen, AuD advises identifying your feelings first by asking yourself:
- Am I angry that my loved one won’t get help?
- Do I get upset when I have to repeat myself and raise my voice?
- Do I agree to stay away from certain social situations because of my loved one’s hearing challenges?
- Do I resent my role in having to assist them?
Remember that a person’s challenges with hearing have nothing to do with you. If you feel frustrated, it’s a sign that it’s time to understand, empathize, and assist your loved one.
In Carmen’s book, How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships: Motivating Your Loved One, he suggests wearing earplugs for an entire day to understand what your family member is experiencing and notice the subtleties you’ll miss. These include others' vocal intonation and critical contexts for reading meaning.
Imagine, then, trying to hear people through face masks. This will give you a better understanding of how your loved one must feel at loud family gatherings or events when they cannot hear well enough to participate. For example, listen for how many times during the day that you say "what?"
The Importance of Empathy in Communicating a Delicate Issue
Some people with hearing challenges find it irritating, embarrassing, or gut-wrenching to concede that anything is amiss, and they’ve figured out workarounds to carry on. When even the slightest perceived decline of hearing is so closely associated with aging and the feeling of losing value in the world, it’s understandable.
Only with empathy and a good dose of patience can we pull from our loved one how they feel and get them to open up about their hearing frustrations. Then we can begin to help them with professional care and technological solutions in order to live a more amplified life.
Experts offer tips on how to tell if you or someone you live or work with is struggling with hearing in loud environments or groups:
- Do they seem to struggle with clarity of conversations as if sounds and speech are muffled, or they're missing consonants?
- Are the radio and TV often turned up a little too loud?
- Is it easier and less anxiety-provoking for them to stay home rather than attend social events where they will struggle to be part of the conversation?
- Are they avoiding friends, meetings and family gatherings?