Post by Julia Stepp
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”– Leo Tolstoy, Russian Writer
Not long ago, I realized I’ve been a hearing partner my whole life. An aha moment during our Lipreading Concepts class recently reminded me I have been practicing hearing loss communication rules since I was a kid. My grandmother would touch my arm so I would look at her, then she’d say, “Now repeat that.” This simple routine started when I was 7 or 8 years old.
Small Tweaks to Make It Right
Making small tweaks over the years for me and my family when changes in hearing loss happened were fairly simple. I taught my boys lipreading dos and don’ts, “Grandma needs you to face her so she can understand what you’re saying.” My boys taught me at family dinners if you wanted to have a conversation with grandma it was better to sit on her right side. But if you want to be a smart ass, sit on her left side.
For me, this seems so simple that I struggle to understand why others have trouble getting hearing partners to understand or make changes for simple communication boundaries. Truth is, years of attending hearing loss classes, lipreading classes and listening to my HoH mentors who shared their everyday struggles with communication actually shaped my communication habits. I have had a lot of “aha” moments the past two years building Hearing Loss LIVE! with Chelle Wyatt. Here’s some thoughts I have about how hearing partners can get in the know.
Hearing loss changes communication. Period.
I think a lot about why this gets lost in translation. If hearing loss is new to the equation (or maybe “you’re not there yet”), there is a lot to sort out. There’s grief and the loss of casual conversation. Hearing aids are hard to figure out. Maybe there’s even an employment change (hopefully you contact your state vocational rehabilitation to help with that). Even in this day and age, we fight old stigmas around hearing loss. Neither one of you knows what to expect or what you need from each other. It’s possible you both sweep it under the rug hoping it will be normal again!!
Stop. Breathe. Think.
The first step on this rocky road of hearing loss is to sit down and talk to each other. Even if it’s saying:
- “I don’t know what to do!”
- “I’m really having a hard time with (fill in the blank).”
- “How can I best support you?”
- “Honey? You are there. Now what?”
Start the conversation today.
“If you take out the team in teamwork, it’s just work. Now who wants that?”– Mathew Woodrin Stover, American Novelist
When hearing partners get involved, they will find a better understanding of the journey ahead. Getting in the know helps them be better prepared when meeting the next person with hearing loss. If, or when, you as the hearing partner face hearing loss yourself, you will be able to adapt much easier. One in five people have hearing loss folks! One in three at age 65 and one in two at age 75.
Attending audiology appointments gives hearing partners insight on what type of hearing loss the HoH partner has. If the audiologist practices patient centered care, you will find out how hearing aids help with word discrimination and how it relates to your voice; is your HoH missing low tones or high tones – or both? You will have a better understanding of what hearing aid limitations look like. Take notes and work as partners during the hearing aid trial period, become a team. You can also help with program tweaking, explaining what doesn’t work for the two of you when it comes to communication.
Lipreading Classes Improve Communication
Take a lipreading class together, that’s how better communication happens. Learn all that goes into lipreading as the hearing partner so you know what changes to make for better communication outcomes. We specifically built our class for you to take together.
Practice the 3 Golden Rules with everyone.
Okay, y’all know we love the three golden rules here at Hearing Loss LIVE! The truth is people with hearing loss can’t do their part until they know their own communication preferences. A hearing partner can’t do their part if the HoH doesn’t know what they need, and many people with hearing loss don’t know what they need! This loop could go on forever. Stop the cycle now.
Make this your daily worksheet for communication boundaries/habit change that you can use with everyone:
- Did you get their attention?
- Did you face them?
- Are you within six feet?
Practicing the three golden rules of communication with every one takes care of a huge chunk of communication confusion. Sometimes it helps before the question “what do I need?” is even asked. Try it! You might find you like it.
“It’s when we start working together that the real healing takes place”– David Hume, Scottish Philosopher
Don’t compete for who hurts more.
This is not a contest for who hurts more. You must respect and validate each others’ journey.
As the hearing partner, I have grief because there is a loss – a communication loss between us. I might face changes in communication and boundaries that may be hard at first – a change between the two of us. I have to accept that our relationship must change and I must be part of the solution – for the relationship between you and me.
But never once in my journey as a hearing partner did my grief match that of my loved one. Never.
My Hearing Partner Grief Story
“The secret to resilience is focusing all your energy, not on fighting the old, but in building the new.“– Author Unknown
For long as I can remember, my grandmother and I had weekly phone conversations – despite her hearing loss. Even the years when I was a sullen teenager rolling my eyes at the other end of the line, we had weekly phone calls. This tradition lasted into my late 30s.
I remember the day my grandmother and I could no longer have our weekly phone chat due to a drop in her hearing. It was frustrating because she was bluffing while I was relaying something important. Angrily, I yelled something I’m sure was harmful and definitely not helpful, then hung up. It was devastating to realize we would no longer talk on the phone once a week. My world changed that day because we could not carry on our decades old tradition. I would have to grudgingly find a new way to have a communication relationship with her.
Finding a work around.
Because of this drop in her hearing and the loss of phone calls, my grandmother lost communication with EVERYONE. She could no longer call and ask friends about dates for bridge or social gatherings. Making her own doctor appointments was lost to her because she often got the day and times wrong. She could no longer call any of her grandchildren. For her, it was losing everyone, not just our weekly chats. She had to find a new way to communicate with every single person she came in contact with; friend, family or acquaintance.
That truth hit me a couple of times with respect to changes in my communication relationship with my grandma. When it hit, I was glad to have the support from my local HoH community.
Finding a Solution Together.
Together my grandma and I made communication changes, because our relationship was important to both of us. Instead of once a week phone calls, we had once a week lunches. We would visit and talk about our lives for the week. I helped her with phone calls and made sure she had times correct on her event calendars. Not long after we started this routine, captioning phones were introduced. They were too new of a technology to solve all the problems, but it gave her some autonomy to make appointments for herself, call a friend to find out a time and place for her social calendar. Maybe check in with a short call to those grandkids living in another state. The captioned phone freed up some time for our weekly luncheons to be just fun visits.
The Myth: It takes 21 days to change a habit.
Humans are not a patient race. Change is hard. Learning something new is, “eek!” Habits are hard to break. Don’t expect to be perfect but shoot for progress. I think this thought process could be another blog all its own.
Recently, I was getting frustrated with changing another personal habit of mine, how long the change was taking. I took it to Google, starting my search to find out how long this takes, for any habit.
In the 1950’s, plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz, published a quote about an observation of his surgical patients: “…These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” This quote morphed over the years to “21 days for change.”
It took me a few read throughs and three different blog articles to realize what was missing in my thought process… a minimum. I’m not going to wake up magically on day 21 and be like, “Wow. I am a whole new person.” None of the habits I formed in the past happened in 21 days.
More recent studies by Phillipa Lally, health psychology researcher, shows it can be anywhere from 18-254 days for a habit to take hold. How long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.
Your HoH loved one is not going to get up on day 21 of putting on hearing aids hearing exactly like they did before hearing loss.
They are not going to get up on day 21 and be able to carry on a conversation from two different rooms, like they did before.
Hearing partners are not going to wake up on day 21 with everyone following hearing loss communication boundaries. Your HoH will spend everyday being proactive for their communication needs, over and over and over.
Think about it like this; it took you a lifetime to have the communication habits you have so it only makes sense that creating new habits will take some time.
This is important, it will take effort from both parties.
Let me say it again. Changes in habits take time and VERY importantly, it requires effort by both parties. I can’t do my part if you don’t do yours, and you can’t do your part if I don’t do mine.
Don’t look for a magic date on the calendar. Talk to each other honestly. Help find solutions to the problem. Celebrate the small victories. When you fail, and you will, get up, figure out why and make needed changes.
My best advice for hearing partners? Buckle up and get on board. Because it’s time for you to get in the know.
Join our Let’s Talk Tuesday workshop
We’re online and live April 4th at 6:00 PM Mountain time (adjust for your time zone). Join Julia and Chelle to discuss Our Hearing Partners. We all learn from each other! It’s online via Zoom with CART/live captions. There is no charge for the workshop. Register on our Events page for Let’s Talk!