Have you ever ignored someone speaking to you?
Perhaps she asked you to do something you didn’t want to do (this is especially pervasive in the teen years). Sometimes I pretend I can’t hear my husband when he asks me for the seventh time how to find a document on the computer. He admits to being a Neanderthal when it comes to electronic devices.
Contrast those scenarios with the reality of not being able to hear conversations around you. Hearing loss among the elderly is often considered a part of aging. We see cartoons depicting two or three older folks misunderstanding each other, with hilarious results.
The truth isn’t funny.
Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.
When a person loses his hearing, especially an older adult, he 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 high-pitched.
Dr. Frank Lin, an otolaryngologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, describes this phenomenon 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.
Among adults aged seventy and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than 30 percent have ever used them.
I had a conversation with my mother recently 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.
Does this sound familiar? Caregivers get frustrated when we have to keep repeating ourselves. Our loved ones become frustrated at continually having to ask us to repeat words and phrases.
There are no easy solutions. If your loved one is like my mom, she refuses to get a hearing aid because of the cost. She doesn’t want to “waste” the money because she’s convinced she’ll die before getting any benefit. She knows she’s lost a significant portion of her hearing, but is determined to live with it.
My role as her caregiver is to continually show grace. I’ve learned to look directly at my mom when speaking. I also raise my voice. Then I give her a moment to process what I’ve said. Sometimes my patience is tested to the limit when she still hasn’t heard me correctly.
There’s a spiritual lesson here, and I struggle to remember it. “Love is patient,” says I Corinthians 13:4. Oh, yeah, there it is! In every situation I have the choice to lose my patience or exercise it. God has given me this caregiving role, not just for my mother, but for me – to help me grow more into His likeness.
As I write this, I see myself looking up to Heaven and saying to God, “What? I can’t hear you.”
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