Husband: I hear what I want to hear.
Wife: My husband hears fine whenever he wants. He just doesn’t want to very often.
Husband: I hear my wife but I wasn’t paying attention. I was concentrating on something else.
Wife: He tunes me out more and more.
Husband: I don’t enjoy going out anymore. People aren’t as much fun as they used to be.

Sound familiar?

When a family member begins to lose his hearing, it affects everyone, but especially the people closest to him. Due to the gradual nature of most hearing losses, the person suffering from the hearing loss is often the last to know about it.

For many men, especially those who served in the Armed Forces or worked around high levels of noise, the high frequency sounds are the first to deteriorate. They may have perfectly normal hearing for low-pitched sounds, but have a considerable loss for high-pitched speech sounds such as t, f, s, and th. They hear fine; it just sounds like people are mumbling, especially women with their higher pitched voices.

The reason people may not notice their deteriorating hearing is that our eyes and brain compensate for this change. In fact, you only need to hear about 25% of speech sounds in order to follow most of a conversation. The other 75% of sound can be inaudible. However, it takes an incredible amount of effort to follow the conversation when certain speech sounds are missing.

The human brain is an amazing thing. It consumes enough power to light a 20-watt light bulb, and even more when you are forced to really concentrate. With the help of the eyes, the brain pieces the missing information together trying to make sense of the conversation. Unfortunately, this is very tiring. Most people give up trying to understand within ten minutes, and resign themselves to not being part of the conversation.

The person who hears what he wants to hear is probably using all of his available brainpower on hearing. It is not likely he will want (or be able) to exert that much effort for long. After straining for a while, he simply gives up. It’s exhausting.

The first step is to become aware of how hard you are working to hear and understand what people are saying. If you can’t sit back and relax when following conversations, you need to learn the truth about your hearing. Have a thorough hearing test and consultation.

But be sure to take your wife along. And don’t let her sit in the waiting room while you get tested. It’s critical that she understand the type of loss you have and what can be done to make communication easier for both of you.. It is also important that she have realistic expectations of you and your hearing ability even when you are fitted with hearing instruments.

One of my patients has a wife who expects him to understand everything she says because he now wears hearing aids. The truth is that she has a soft voice and tends to lower it at the end of a sentence. She will often talk to him as she walks out of the room and expects him to understand.

She gets annoyed when he asks her to repeat and then criticizes him and his hearing aids. Hearing instruments enhance or stimulate what’s left of the hearing but cannot restore the hearing that has been lost.

Both the hearing impaired person and his family need to be counseled on what to expect from wearing aids. They also need to be taught on how to communicate effectively to reduce misunderstandings that hearing loss can cause in a marriage. Last month in the ALL EARS column, I listed simple things you both can do to make communication easier.

It serves no purpose to wait. Putting off learning about your hearing loss and what can be done to help can be detrimental to any follow-up rehabilitation. Today, most hearing problems can be helped. Properly fitted hearing instruments make speech more audible, reducing the power drain on your brain.

With some brainpower left over, you can sit back and enjoy the conversation. Use the extra brain power to enjoy being with family and friends, not for deciphering chopped up speech sounds.

Hearing loss doesn’t affect husbands only. This article is also relevant to any wives with hearing loss and the husbands who love them! It applies to fathers and mothers with hearing losses, and their children who love them. The bottom line is that when someone has an untreated hearing loss, it not only impacts them but also anyone who loves them. Everyone struggles with communication.

No one wants to wear hearing aids. But hearing instruments can bring back many of the speech sounds, making it easier to be part of conversation. With the right combination of the best hearing technology for your loss, realistic expectations, and regular follow-up care and counseling, you can communicate and connect with family and friends with a less frustration. A better life is possible. But it starts with a good hearing test, together!