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Yes, I Have Hearing Loss, Talk to Me Anyway

This bears repeating: It's important to be included in the conversation

Bouton: Talk to Me

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People with hearing loss are at risk for isolation, which can lead to depression and cognitive decline.

I'm a frustrating person to talk to. I know that. Even under the best circumstances, I often have to ask the speaker to repeat or rephrase what he or she just said. Sometimes I ask two or three times.

True friends and understanding family will do that. They'll repeat, they'll rephrase, they might even spell it out. One friend pulls out a notebook and jots down the key words. It helps if I parrot back the parts of the sentence I did hear, so they understand what I missed.

But not everyone is as patient. How many times have I heard, "Never mind, it isn't important"? Maybe it isn't, but I still want to hear it.

Nevertheless, constant repetition of something trivial does get tedious for the speaker, and so, sometimes in a social situation, I just let it go. I'd rather the person keep talking to me than understand every word. (This is not something I'd do in a business meeting or in any important discussion, by the way. It's just for social chitchat.)

Is this wise? Do I really want to hear only half a conversation? Maybe, depending on who the speaker is. What I do want is to be included in conversation. I want to be invited places. I want to be seen as someone fun and interesting, rather than as a constant drag on conversation. I know readers will criticize me for saying this. We people with hearing loss, especially advocates like me, are supposed to demand our rights, not lie down and surrender.

So why do I do just that — lie down and surrender? Why do I accept only part of the conversation? I think I have a good reason. A huge danger for people with hearing loss is isolation. Isolation is not good for your mental health. It can lead to depression and cognitive decline.

If I asked for clarification of every word, social chitchat would quickly bog down. As a result, I might not try again next time. That's how isolation occurs.

For now, I listen closely, I try to gauge what I really want to hear and selectively ask the speaker for clarification. The rest of the time I smile and nod, or frown and sigh, or raise my eyebrows, or laugh appreciatively. How do I know to do this without knowing what was said? I follow the speaker's face. The clues are all there. Of course I run the risk of a grossly inappropriate misreading of the speaker's face. But that's a risk I'll take to keep people talking to me.

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