It's not fair

by Martin Jurek

A friend of mine has severe arthritis in his left ankle, which makes him walk with a noticeable limp. Last weekend we hiked the Ripple Rock trail, and I had to constantly nag him to keep up. I found it really inconsiderate – and rude – of him to keep us from enjoying the trail at a reasonable pace. What a useless, lazy oaf.

Before you dismiss me as a heartless creep, let me assure you that this didn’t really happen. Like you, I realize how insensitive it sounds. I made up this scenario to make a point: that this is exactly how people with reduced hearing sensitivity are treated every day.

The burden of invisibility

Reduced hearing sensitivity is a very real condition that affects about one in 10 Canadians. But it’s an invisible condition. Without a limp, cane or other visual reminder to draw attention, it’s easy for others to forget – or never even realize – the condition exists.

In many cases, the person with reduced hearing sensitivity doesn’t even realize their hearing is affected. They don’t understand why everyone seems to be mumbling, why they’re mentally exhausted and grumpy at the end of the day or why they increasingly retreat from social interaction.

Its complexity and slow, progressive nature can also create confusion. A loss in the high frequencies, for example, often means someone can hear well in a small, carpeted computer room but not in a kitchen with tile flooring and a running dishwasher. Needless to say, this sort of “selective hearing” can create serious tension between partners and quickly lead to the kind of scorn and contempt described above.

We expect people with reduced hearing sensitivity to engage in conversation in noisy restaurants. We get annoyed (or ignore them entirely) when they ask us to repeat ourselves. We lose patience and accuse them of not listening when they miss important details.

It’s not fair, and it makes me sad to see it beat down so many good people and spoil so many otherwise loving relationships. By the same token, just as other people might be inconsiderate of someone with reduced hearing sensitivity, it’s just as inconsiderate of that person to do nothing and simply expect everyone around them to be patient.

A cure for annoying husbands?

In my practice, I’ve seen again and again how reduced hearing sensitivity can create serious tension between partners.

One couple I saw recently was having a particularly difficult time. The wife was upset with her husband because she thought he was ignoring her and because he continually disappeared whenever company came over. While she suspected his hearing sensitivity had changed somewhat, she thought he was taking advantage of the situation and was simply being rude. As you can imagine, their relationship suffered accordingly.

After completing her husband’s hearing test, I plugged the results into a hearing simulator and had the wife listen to a recorded story. When she heard for herself how her husband heard all the time – and realized how difficult it must be for him – she began to cry. She apologized profusely and promised to be more understanding.

These are the moments I live for; the moment someone suddenly understands just how profound an effect reduced hearing can have on one’s life and realizes how unfair society is to people whose hearing is less than perfect.

As a society, we demand wheelchair ramps for public buildings and audio signals for the visually impaired. But nobody cares that the acoustics of the local church, or the constant hum of a furnace at the local community centre, are torturous to 10% of the population.

Get to know your hearing

I truly love what I do. It’s not the tinkering with electronics that I love (although I do enjoy that), or the bookkeeping and other paperwork (I sincerely dislike that). It’s watching how dramatically lives and relationships can be improved with better hearing – and even with the mere understanding of what the world sounds like through the ears of someone with reduced hearing sensitivity.

Most people with reduced hearing sensitivity don’t even know it. So if you recognize any of the scenarios above, or you have any reason to suspect your hearing isn’t as sharp as it once was, you owe it to yourself and the people around you to get it checked out.

We’d be happy to provide you with a complimentary hearing assessment, and we’ll even let you experience the hearing simulator I mentioned earlier.

Every decision about your health and your hearing, of course, is yours and yours alone. We’re not going to pressure you or try to “sell” you anything – I don’t like it when people do that to me and I’m certainly not going to do it to you. If I can help you better understand the complexities of hearing sensitivity, though, I’ve done my job. If I can provide you with a solution that will improve your relationships and quality of life, then I’ve really done my job.

You can call me, if and when you’re ready, at 250-914-3200.