They have ears, but they hear not.

Psalm 135:17

I recently had a conversation with my mother that went something like this:

Me:      Mike and I are going to a movie this weekend.

Mom:   What? You’re moving?

Me:      No, we’re going to a MOVIE.

Mom:   Oh, what are you going to see?

Me:      Saturn Rising.

Mom:   What? She turns what?

Me:      Never mind.

About two percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. The rate increases to 8.5 percent for adults aged 55 to 64. Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.[1]

At ninety-two years old, Mom can barely understand normal conversations, unless we speak slow, clear, and loud. If she has the television on when I go down to her house, the volume is set at eardrum exploding level. She knows she’s lost a good portion of her hearing, yet she refuses to entertain the idea of hearing aids.

“I don’t want to spend the money. I’ll probably die before I see any return on investment,” she says. Spoken like a product of the Great Depression.

So I deal with having to repeat almost everything I say.

Sometimes I wonder if my mother stubbornly refuses to get hearing aids because of her unspoken jealousy over my ability to still be fully functional. I go where I want, when I want. I can hear, see, drive, and read. All the things she used to enjoy, and no longer can.

I interact with the elderly in my day job as a bank manager. There’s a pattern of behavior I’ve observed. Most older adults who have experienced loss of some function are downright cranky. They demand, complain, and they’re impatient. The financial world is changing, and they hate it. My staff and I receive the brunt of their frustration.

Why do our otherwise honorable, respected matriarchs and patriarchs become like spoiled children when faced with reality of diminished capabilities? After ninety-two years, it seems reasonable to say, “Have just a shred of dignified grace and compassion on those around you who have to endure your selfish, demanding foolishness!”

Caregivers see this behavior up close and personal.

The Sufficiency of Christ

We have a choice to allow ourselves to become frustrated, or to show grace to our elderly loved ones. I’m reminded of the words from Ephesians 4:1-2. I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.

How does a follower of Christ live this in the moment? When I acknowledge my irritation, and surrender it to Christ, I’m able to show grace and humility. I can see my mother as a person, not an irritant. I see her own grief at the loss of function. In my heart, I’m able to show her grace and humility by surrendering to the Spirit by whom we live.

On a practical level, I have to remember to speak up, and to make sure I look directly at my mother when I talk.

When a person loses their hearing, especially an older adult, they can easily withdraw. Conversations are frustrating to follow, and when several people talk at once, the sounds are indiscernible. Children are especially hard to hear because their voices are still immature.

Dr. Frank Lin, an otolaryngologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, describes hearing loss, and trying to track conversation as “cognitive load.” Cognitive overload is the way it feels. Essentially, the brain is so preoccupied with translating the sounds into words that it seems to have no processing power left to search through the storerooms of memory for a response.[2]

[1] NIH – National Institute of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services.

[2] Katherine Bouton. Katherine Bouton is the author of the new book, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You,” from which her essay is adapted. New York Times, February 11, 2013.


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