Communication Matters

"Selective Hearing" - or Hearing Loss?

Laura L. Brady, AuD, CCC-A | Posted on March 23, 2020

Couple watching TVVery often, spouses and life-partners will suggest that their loved one has “selective” hearing – a self-made term indicating that they can hear perfectly fine most of the time, but tend not to hear their partner speaking. Is it simply a matter of “tuning out” – or could it be something else?

We all know that listening and hearing are not the same. Parents of two year olds and teens can attest to this. Both have the same tendency to “tune out” a parent’s instructions. However, children and teens likely hear what a parent is saying, but aren’t actively listening.

For adults, (spouses and partners in particular) it can seem rude and offensive not to respond when spoken to. However, hearing loss generally happens very slowly over a long period of time. Often, the subtle (and not so subtle) signs of hearing difficulty are more obvious to significant communication partners than to the person with the hearing loss.

Signs of Hearing Loss

  • Do you notice that someone you love is turning the television volume louder than others prefer?
  • Do you notice conversations on the telephone are becoming more difficult?
  • Have they answered a question that wasn’t asked, or responded with an inappropriate answer? (Example: Answering yes/no to the question, “What do you want for lunch?”)
  • Do they frequently need words repeated or ask for clarity?

How to Help

  • Make conversation face-to-face whenever possible so the person can see and hear you more clearly. Speaking from another room, or while facing away from a person makes any communication more difficult.
  • Be sure to speak clearly and at a reasonable volume. Mumbling or whispering can only add to the “tuning-out” habit.
  • In noisy environments, such as restaurants, it can be helpful to be seated against a wall or in a booth to limit background noise.
  • If you need to speak to someone who may listening to music or watching TV, ask them to turn it down while you speak to ensure clear communication.

Other Options

Even if a spouse or partner suspects “selective hearing” – or if they suspect true hearing loss, it can be difficult to get a definitive diagnosis for their loved one! For a variety of reasons (financial concerns about the cost of hearing aids, self-image, acceptance of aging, vanity…) we often hear of people who are reluctant to come in for a hearing evaluation.  It can be a tough topic to broach. Hopefully, these tips will help!

Suggest a hearing screening

Start with encouraging “just” a screening and let the audiologist handle the recommendations from there. A screening seems less invasive and less formal than a hearing test. Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center offers free screenings all year long!

Schedule back-to-back hearing tests (father/daughter, husband/wife, friend/friend )

Having a loved one or trusted person come along for the shared experience can be reassuring. It’s also a second set of ears to remember what the audiologist said and any recommendations.

Talk about the unfortunate effects of untreated hearing loss

On average, people with hearing loss wait over seven years before they visit a hearing healthcare professional in order to address it.

Untreated hearing loss has been linked to other health concerns such as dementia, and depression. A person’s quality of life can decline. They may no longer enjoy social events where hearing in noisy environments, in group settings, or in restaurants is more difficult.  They may begin to decline social invitations or stop attending church. When someone struggles to fully engage with others, relationships become strained, and feelings of isolation can worsen and lead to depression.

The longer you wait, the harder the adjustment process can be

In most cases, untreated hearing loss worsens over time. We know that early detection and treatment of many health problems improves the prognosis. The same is true with for those experiencing hearing loss.  An unused or under-used auditory pathway can change the ability to recognize speech sounds clearly. We need to keep the auditory system and brain stimulated. When the brain becomes accustomed to not fully processing words and sounds, the ability to do so can decline over time. Research also shows that untreated hearing loss actually causes brain tissue to shrink.

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Tags: Hearing Aid, Hearing Aids, Communication, Hearing, Hearing Loss Prevention, Support, Hard of Hearing, Hearing Loss

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