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WHAT? How not hearing screws up our lives.

Went to a lovely wedding this weekend and here’s what I missed:

– The couples’ heartfelt vows

– The story of how the groom’s grandmother came to the U.S.

– What my niece is doing in Arizona – and everything about her new boyfriend

– The toast by the bridesmaids…and many more morsels of news and conversation.

Why? Because my hearing is going. I was tested by an audiologist and I have “moderate” hearing loss for someone my age (63). Which means I can’t hear much in noisy restaurants and can’t hear muffled noises. Now I know why “older people” leave parties so early.

I was told I wasn’t ready for a hearing aid, though they seem to be coming into fashion because most young people think the ear piece is connected to your iPhone. And I’ve heard the goods and bads of today’s hearing aids. The good – better than ever for reducing background noise, less feedback with cell phones, smaller and less conspicuous. The bad – really expensive and still not nearly as good as real hearing – even being bothersome enough that many aid wearers often skip wearing them entirely.

I met a retired audiologist the other day and will interview her in a future column. She understands the hearing aid problems and has developed programs to improve hearing without aids. Her recommendations are mostly quite simple: ask the speaker to please speak louder or use the microphone; position yourself within hearing distance or facing the speaker to read lips (or try to read lips – amazing what we can pick up); go to quiet restaurants; ask for audio headphones at live theater; and more. She talked about training people to be more attentive to conversation and be realistic about situations you can and can’t be a participant.

Have you thought about your hearing and how important it is to your life? It’s the one sense that truly can shut you out of the world of people. You’re no longer being part of conversations, not able to express your opinions and needs at appropriate times, not being able to hear the voices of people we love. Or hear music or birds or the garbage truck coming down the street.

In our late 30s my friend, Thomas, used to only order Daily Specials at restaurants and we all thought it was because he thought the food to be fresher or the dish to be more interesting. It turned out he couldn’t read the menu without readers and was too embarrassed to wear them. Creative solution! So now we can’t HEAR the Daily Specials and will only order off the menu!

I’d love to hear how you’re enhancing your hearing! Please share your best – and quirkiest – strategies for staying in the conversation. And stay tuned for more to come on this timely topic.

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