My ears are still ringing from the onslaught of sound experienced at this weekend's V Festival. Ears and hearing have been very much in topic for me recently.
Last week I attended an audiologist appointment with my husband. As well as analysing the graphs that detailed the volumes needed before his ears registered sound at different frequencies, there was a strong educational element - as in educating me and the family in ways of helping minimise the impact of his hearing difficulties and improve communication.
It was quite sobering looking at the graphs. I've always known that he was deaf in one ear but to see the tangible evidence in graphical form made it very real. The curve for his right ear fell well within the Normal bounds whereas the curve for the left ear fell on the border between Severe and Profound deafness. The audiologist is quite sure that a digital hearing aid will offer some benefit - most notably in the sense that he will be able to localise sound more successfully. He is on the waiting list now for a fitting.
The educational part dealt with the difference between passive hearing and active listening and how difficult it can be for people with single sided hearing loss to filter out background noise and follow conversations. The advice was all fairly obvious - get the person's attention before starting to talk, face the person, maintain eye contact and don't cover your mouth, get to point and don't speak too fast, don't shout, keep an optimum distance 1.5 m and don't turn away whilst still talking. Obvious of course but how many of these simple rules do we actually follow in the home environment? Not many in any sort of consistent way. No wonder the poor man is constantly saying sorry, pardon, say that again!
Social situations are worst for him. Especially when my family gathers and everyone talks at once. I used to worry that he was in a bad mood or bored when he seemed to glaze over but I understand now that his brain must have been working in overdrive to try and make sense of what was going on and that cannot be sustained indefinitely.
Ironically, I have also found myself with hearing loss in one ear. As the audiologist was explaining about conditions which influence listening and tactics for better communication, slowly and clearly and with the majority of eye contact focused on my husband, I found myself glazing over because it was such an effort to try and follow what she was saying! (Luckily, all the information I missed was laid out on helpful leaflets that we were able to take away with us and digest at our leisure.) I am not trying to trump my husband's difficulties by saying but I'm deaf too. My hearing loss is almost certainly temporary and if it hasn't sorted itself out by the time I get back from my holiday next week I will seek medical help. It has not been pleasant but it has given me a great insight into what it is like for my husband. My sympathy towards him has increased enormously.
I was determined to try and be a better facilitator of effective communication and for important things I am very much more aware of the factors that affect whether or not I can be easily understood. However, this awareness has lead me to realise that so much of what I say at home is just not very important. It is chit chat, random comments, nonsense!! It was not worthy of first gaining his attention etc etc. I started to find myself just not bothering to talk unless it was important. I wasn't being a better communicator - I was being a minimalist communicator. Shades of mood and levity were being lost to silence. A rich layer of social interaction eroded by a verbal absence.
It is really hard trying to create a balance - feeling free to communicate (the trivial as well as the necessary) yet abiding by rules. It is especially difficult at the moment with neither of us being able to hear the other properly but we are doing what we can..
We haven't quite resorted to sign language - yet!