10 New Years Resolutions for People with Hearing Loss


Here we go again…its that time of year where we make all sorts of cliche New Years resolutions.  We all make the typical “lose weight” “exercise more” types.  Those are permanently affixed to every year’s list of resolutions for me.

As a person with significant hearing loss, there are some things which we can do that will make our lives more enjoyable.  So here are some suggestions for New Years Resolutions.

  1. Develop and Enjoy a Hobby.  As people with hearing loss, our communication challenges affect us in so many ways.  Its easy to let this dominate our lives.  So this is why I put this one at the top of the list of resolutions, because I feel it critical to develop and nurture our entire person.  For me, I have taken up Archery.  I love how archery calms me.  In addition, It requires much practice and skill, so it challenges me.  And it completely takes my mind off my hearing loss.
  2. Learn to use a new Communication Device.  Have you tried captioning on your TV?  Have you tried an FM system?  Do you use your different programs on your hearing aid?  This year, make it a goal to pick a device and learn to use it well.
  3. Learn a New Communication Technique.  There are all sorts of behavioral ways we can learn to communicate better.  Technology is only part of the story.  Ask yourself questions such as “Do I always make sure I sit with the light behind me so I can see other people’s faces better for lip-reading?”, or “Do I use a specific clarification rather than just saying what or pardon me?”.  Pick just one technique and try to apply this as much as you can.
  4. Take Action. This involves learning to be assertive, but not aggressive.  I need to work on being a bit more assertive.  For example, when I sit in a restaurant, sometimes I do not pick the best seat.  The best seat would be one in which I can see as many faces as possible and where the background noise is behind me.  All I need to do is just say to my dinner party “Do you mind if I sit there?  It would help me communicate better.”
  5. Learn to Accept Things.  Even with all the best technology and communication techniques, there are certain situations that may still be too challenging.  For example, even though I may go out to a bar with friends, I cannot hear all the communication from all the people in my group.  With the use of my FM system, I can, however, have conversations with one person at a time.  Therefore I have learned to accept this limitation.  I wish I could hear all the jokes zipping around me, but I can’t.
  6. Develop Calmness.  Again, another one I need to work on.  I am getting better, but sometimes I do get frustrated by my limitations.  Normally, this drive I have to not let this hearing loss limit me is a good thing.  It has driven me to become an audiologist, and learn to use all sorts of technologies and strategies to communicate better.  But sometimes, we might hit a brick wall.  I can get worked up by this and boil inside and its not healthy.  This year, when I get that feeling, I will try to draw upon the calmness I am learning from Archery. (See how this all ties in together?)
  7. Teach a Loved One Communication Strategies.  Communication is a two way street.  I would say that perhaps unlike other disabilities, hearing loss always affects your love ones.  Talking always involves at least one other person and as such, requires changes from communication partners.  So take some time to teach one “significant other” some techniques.  For example, my niece is likely the fastest talking teenager on planet earth.  It is incredible how many words per minute she can say.  I have worked on getting her to slow down when talking with me. Interestingly, she is now working as a waitress saving money for University next year and she has found that she does her job better when she slows down her speech for her customers.  Win win!!
  8. Plan a Dinner with Good Communication Techniques.  This one is a fun project.  Scout out a restaurant that is low noise and has good lighting.  Pick out a table that also fits these two criteria.  Pick out a seat that allows you to see everyone and where your back is towards the background noise.  Decide the number of people in the dinner party that you comfortably can communicate with.  Think about the communication devices you will be using, such as an FM system.  Think about the request for clarification techniques you will employ. And then make a reservation and enjoy!
  9. Read.  For the majority of us, our sense of vision is just fine.  Our eyes are an unimpaired portal to information.  The more we read, the more we keep in touch with the world around us.  Topics become more familiar, which assists greatly in lip-reading and hearing.
  10. Take Time for Family.  Here’s another one for me.  I get so wrapped up in dealing with my own hearing loss issues, that I sometimes do not see how things are with my family.  Be sensitive to how your hearing loss affects your other family members.  Be thankful for the things they are already doing to help you.  Also, your family members have things happening to them, both good and bad.  Make sure we take time to listen to them, rejoice in their successes, and help them with their challenges.  Its not always just about us.
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Stigma and Hearing Loss.


Over the past year, I have been growing my hair.  I have done this for a couple for reasons.  First, I am still in the midst of a mid-life crises, but in a good way.  I am celebrating the fact that I still have a full head of hair at 47, and I am showing if off it a silly display of vanity.  Second, it looks good when I am playing in my band (its great for head banging).  But thirdly, I must confess, is that it is helping to conceal my hearing devices.  The latter was not one of the initial motivating reasons to grow my mop, but I have noticed a change in the way people look at me now that the devices are less visible.

People tell me I look like Matthew McConaughey's chubby, but sexy, deaf brother.

So what is the issue here?  Obviously there is still a stigma associated with hearing loss.  Lets look at the definitions of this word “stigma”.  The Merriam Webster on-line dictionary defines stigma as “a mark of shame or discredit” and “an identifying mark or characteristic; specifically : a specific diagnostic sign of a disease”.

So do I see using a hearing aid, a cochlear implant or an FM system as a sign of shame or discredit?  Of course not.  In fact Canadians, Americans, Europeans, Australians, and others who live in the developed world should realize how fortunate we are to be living in a society in which our either our incomes or social programs can afford to provide us with devices that can help us hear again.  World wide, there are likely millions of individuals with hearing loss who cannot afford the luxury of better hearing.

Are using hearing devices a specific diagnostic sign of a disease?  Well, maybe.  It certainly does give away the fact that I do have a hearing loss.  But as I will point out later, there are other signs that indicate the presence of a hearing loss, namely, one’s communication abilities.

I think that for many years, hearing aid companies did not help to diminish the perceived  stigma associated with hearing devices.  They constantly tried to advertise “invisible” hearing aids.  One could even order hearing aids that were delivered to your home in a “plain brown envelop”.  What’s up with that?  Are we ordering porn here? These kinds of marketing practices only served to reinforce the notion that hearing loss is shameful.

Frankly, I think most of the notion of hearing aids being stigmatizing on an individual is bullshit.  The ultimate proof of that comes to me every year around Christmas time in which I go to lots of Holiday parties.  What I am about to describe to you has happened to me so many times, I wish had a nickel for every time it occurred.

The scene is set as follows.  I have my refreshing beverage in my right hand.  In my left hand is my Phonak SmartLink+ FM transmitter.  I am happily conversing away with lots of folks, and inevitably, someone will ask about it.  The conversation goes something like this:

Other Person: “Hey, what’s that thing you got there?”

Me: “Well, that’s my FM transmitter”

Other Person: “Oh yeah, so what does it do?

Me: “”It picks up your voice and helps block out the background noise.  so I can hear you a lot better in this noisy party”

Other Person: ‘Wow, cool.  so how do you hear with it?”

Me: “Well, it transmits via FM radio waves to little receivers attached to my cochlear implant and my hearing aid”

Other Person: “Wow, thats so cool.  You know my Dad should get one of those.  His hearing is way worse that yours”

Me:  “Really?  Wow. His hearing is worse than mine?  Is he deaf?”

Other Person: “No, no , no.  He’s not deaf.  Probably just hearing loss due to age.  But he just completely falls apart in social gatherings.  He totally avoids them.  Constantly saying “what?” all the time.  Drives us all crazy, especially my Mom.  He won’t even go to things like this anymore.”

Me:  “Does he wear a hearing aid.”

Other Person:  “No, he doesn’t want anyone to know he has a hearing loss.”

So what do I conclude from this exchange?

  1. People judge the amount of “disability” you on the basis of your behavior and your ability to function, not just on the presence of hearing devices.
  2. Because I seem to function better in a noisy environment with my FM system, hearing aid, and cochlear implant, I am perceived as having LESS of a hearing loss than a silly old coot with presbycusis (hearing loss due to age) who won’t even wear a hearing aid.
  3. Often the biggest barrier to better communication is the person with hearing loss themselves.  They erroneously think others won’t notice their hearing loss if they do not wear a hearing aid or use an FM system.  The fact is that they are constantly having communication breakdowns and this is extremely obvious to everyone.

But this brings me back to the hair thing.  The cochlear implant is bigger than a hearing aid, so folks do stare a bit.  It can get annoying.  So, I grew my hair a bit and it covers it up more.  So shoot me for wanting to look a bit cooler.  But I can assure you, I would never trade my ability to function for the sake of cosmetics.  I know that I would be perceived far worse if I kept saying “what, huh, pardon me”.  The hearing devices and FM system help me function and decrease negative perceptions.

Hearing during the Holidays.


The Holiday Season is now upon us.  There are work Holiday parties, Christmas parties in the neighborhood, Christmas or Hanukkah family dinners, you name it.  And they all have a couple of things in common:

  • It is noisy
  • Alcohol is usually served
  • The main activity is talking and listening.

These functions are not easy for people with hearing loss.  We function best in quiet settings and smaller groups where there is no competing noise.  Moreover we need to concentrate harder to communicate, so remaining sober and unintoxicated is a must.

You don't want to be like this guy.

Given that you will be going to places in which there is a high noise level, you need equipment and strategies on how to communicate in this environment.

So here is the Stelma Survival Christmas Guide for People with Hearing Loss.

  1. If you have a mild loss of hearing, you must use a hearing aid with a good Directional Microphone.  As I discussed in a previous blog entry, these microphones will pick up the person talking in front of you and reduce the noise behind you.
  2. Due to the high noise level of these functions, people with moderate, moderate-severe, severe, or profound  losses of hearing will definitely require an FM system attached to the hearing device (hearing aid or cochlear implant).
  3. You need to set your FM system microphone to the SuperZoom position for maximum noise reduction.
  4. If it is a cocktail party type of event, you will be standing and talking.  So you will place the FM transmitter in your left hand and your refreshing beverage in your right hand.
  5. When conversing, you will point the transmitter at the person you wish to communicate with.  We call this the Reporter Style of using an FM system.  Also make sure you hold the transmitter correctly.  See this video clip for more details.
  6. Remember to use Specific Requests for Clarification if you misunderstand.  For example instead of “what?”, say “Can you repeat the last part you said?”.  See my earlier blog entry on “What’s Wrong with Saying What
  7. Try to position yourself in areas with lower noise.  So if the music is blasting in the living room, move to the kitchen or dining room where these is less noise.
  8. Try to position yourself in areas with better lighting.  Again, if the living room is dark, stay in the kitchen where there is better lighting.
  9. Keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum.  It takes a lot of concentration for us people with hearing loss to communicate and alcohol gets in the way.  Not to mention drinking and driving is illegal.  I typically drink Gin and Tonics, but I alternate with mineral water and lime.  That way nobody bugs me about not having a drink in my hand.

If anyone else has some strategies that they use for coping with Holiday Parties, I would love to hear from you.

Happy Holidays everyone!