One of the things that has made me feel isolated is my hearing loss. I don’t hear as well as I used to. High-end frequencies create the biggest problem. It is harder to hear what girls and women say, especially those who mumble or don’t speak clearly. It is challenging to understand dialects like those in British movies and TV programs. Figuring out what is being said is difficult and tiring enough but made even worse when someone has their back to me or we are in a noisy restaurant or at a stage performance. It can be a real chore.
Once a week my friends, Erin and Grace have a “Tea” salon. They invite friends for an evening get-together. They are in their 30s and they invite me. Wow! Sometimes there are just a few of us, sometimes many more. When the group is large and when there are side conversations, keeping up with what’s being said is hard. Especially when someone slides a side comment or joke into the conversation. The discussion frequently centers around music. Importantly, there are significant differences in our musical background. When I grew up in the late 30’s and early 40’s we had big bands, jazz, folk and North Carolina mountain music — the Dorsey brothers, Louis Armstrong, Cab Callaway, Gene Krupa, Frank Sinatra, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lena Horn, etc. I saw Sintatra on stage at the Paramount Theater in Manhattan in the early 40s and Krupa’s band played at a dance at UNC- Chapel Hill later in the decade. It was the only time I went to a formal; I had to borrow a tux. I still hear sound of Krupa’s masterful drumming.
Those who grew up a generation or two later than me listened to very different music. What I grew up with and liked is different from what they grew up with. I enjoy sharing music with my younger friends. I remember what a treasure it was lounging on Totherside Bay on St. John, VI, with my good friend Lydia — she’s in her 20’s — the ear plugs in our ears listening to Libba Cotton’s rendition of “Freight Train, Freight Train”. Or listening to Grace along with her group, The Reagan Project, performing at a local club. So I do enjoy some of the current music. I must admit, however, that Rap music doesn’t do a thing for me and I don’t think it is because of my hearing loss.
Part of the problem in keeping up with the discussion comes from those differences. But the hearing loss contributes to the problem. It makes it harder to follow the conversation and to make a contribution to it. I find that following what is going on is much easier one-on-one or in a small group. In fact, under those circumstances, I have something to say and those around me appreciate my contribution.
Those difficulties are a function of aging. They can be isolating. However, if you pay attention to them and try to work around them, I have found you can continue to participate and make a contribution. I’ve been able to make that happen more often when I’ve acknowledged that I have a hearing problem and respectfully requested that people face me and speak up. I’ve also found that when I want to engage in a discussion, it is helpful to set a time and quiet place to get together so that it can happen. Being pro-active helps.
“What about hearing aids?” you might well ask. That’s another story. I’ve been told I have to keep blog posts short or no one will read them. So perhaps it will be the subject of my next one.