DRHOOK- Say what? Hearing loss solutions sound scary

the handsome doctor John Hong

Charlie Brown's schoolteacher talked like this, "Wah waah wah waah." Maybe I have a hearing problem, but I don't think The Peanuts adults articulate well. Snoopy talks better than they do. 

If you talk to someone who can't hear well, they will often blame you. One hard-of-hearing person used to say to us, "You folks in the South talk too softly." We are damn Yankees, hello! 

Another person told me, "Your Korean accent is hard to understand." Um, Mr. Man, I don't speak Korean; I was raised in Ohio. 

Some hard-of-hearing people will just nod like my non-English speaking relatives who just give me a polite smile. "Auntie, I smell smoke!" Nod, smile, rub my back.

What is a person with hearing loss to do?

I look at hearing loss like alcoholism: it affects family and friends as well as the sufferer.

"Words are the most powerful thing in the world," according to my 9th grade English teacher. So if someone can't hear you, it makes it difficult to have a meaningful relationship. Misunderstandings are all too easy without hearing loss, so with hearing loss a compliment can be misinterpreted as an insult. Instructions and information can be more difficult to convey than a foreign customer service rep on the phone trying to solve a computer malfunction. For some hearing-impaired people, it's a one-way conversation from hell. 

Presbycusis, the medical term for poor hearing, affects almost every aging person to some degree. As someone said to me over and over, "I can hear you. I just can't understand you." (The story of my life.) Words can sound slurred like those of a drunk person. (While talking to his party-hearty daughters in college, I wonder if George W. Bush ever wondered if his hearing was getting worse.) 

One of my best friends in college already mumbles, so if I start to have significant hearing loss, we're doomed as far as ever talking on the phone again. Thank God for texting! 

High-pitched sounds often are hard to distinguish, like "s" and "th," as well as women's voices (which tend to be higher unless you're Kurt from Glee). So ladies, your hubbie might not be ignoring you. Just talk louder and deeper like Lauren Bacall, "Mow the lawn! [purr]"

The problem with talking louder is that the "rheostat" isn't really set well, so it goes from soft soft soft to loud. How many times have we heard, "You don't have to yell!" after you've had to repeat the same thing a hundred times?

I have a hard time convincing most of my patients to get a hearing test. Asking a patient to get a hearing test is like asking a horse to get you some glue. 

Not everyone will benefit from a hearing aid. But I see all too many folks who could benefit refuse to wear them. They are expensive, and often insurance won't cover them. Some people want the cosmetically small hearing aids because they consider the cheaper ones too big, like Russian microphones in the ‘60s. 

I have yet to convince one person who would not benefit from hearing aids to learn sign language or read lips. Part of this resistance, I think, comes with age: perhaps the adage, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," applies. 

I wonder if there could be a support center for our hearing-impaired elder population. It could be a great thing. I see all too many folks with presbycusis live lonely lives, trapped in a silent world. 

An ENT and audiologist are the best bet for an evaluation of poor hearing. And if it sounds scary, wait to hear the whether they can do something to help.


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.