Around 36 million American adults suffer from hearing loss, and my husband is one of them. Let's talk about what that means in very practical terms:
We now pick restaurants based on their noise level over the quality or type food they serve. If the ceilings are too high or the walls too inadequately covered, the sounds of dishes and glasses clanking, music playing and people laughing will make it impossible for him to hear or participate in conversation at our table. The problem came to a head not long ago when we had to get up and leave after waiting an hour for a table at a tapas restaurant on Kauai because of the noise volume in the room. Why blow $100 on a vacation dinner to sit there unable to have a conversation, we reasoned. Was I disappointed? You bet.
We can no longer watch TV in the same room together. He needs the TV volume to be so loud that it rattles my molars. For his last birthday, I bought him a headset. It helps some ... when he wears it. He doesn't like to because he says it distorts the sound coming from the TV. Do I miss hearing his droll commentary whenever Anderson Cooper does a "60 Minutes" segment? Of course I do.
Our cell-phone-to-cell-phone conversations are kept to just the basics. Information is shouted. It goes something like this:
Me: "Pick up milk."
Him: "What about 'tonight?'"
Me: "Milk. I said MILK."
I've reverted to texting him and hoping he sees it in time. Does this compensatory measure work? Not always.
He doesn't especially like to go to parties or events anymore if he knows there will be a microphone in use or electrified music playing. It makes it hard for him to make out what people are saying. When we do go, he stays close by my side, knowing that I'll repeat key words of the conversation to enable him to join in. Has this put a crimp in our social life? Absolutely.
Hearing loss doesn't just impact the person whose hearing is diminished. Everyone who loves them and lives with them suffers. How has my husband's affliction affected our family? For one, I'm tired of being accused of mumbling, of watching my husband become frustrated when the kids make noise in the backseat and he can't hear me giving directions when I'm sitting next to him in the car. The kids have slipped into the role of being their Dad's "ears," knowing that he won't understand them the first time; I hear their voices rise when they have to repeat things a third or fourth time and am grateful that there is no accompanying eye rolling or taking advantage of the fact that when he agrees to something, he might not actually have heard the request. Only once did I hear "Dad said we could watch it" to a particularly violent show.
For the record, my husband and I aren't old. His hearing loss has been gradual and only recently reached the point where we know it has to be dealt with. How big a deal is it? With the exception of a heart attack he suffered six years ago, I can't think of a bigger life-altering health issue that we've faced than his hearing loss.
"Only 1 out of 5 people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one," according to The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders ("NIDCD"). Statistics from NIDCD also reflect an increase in the rate of hearing impairment in Americans as they age: 18 percent of 45- to 64-year-olds, 30 percent of 65- to 74-year-olds and 47 percent of 75-year-olds and older experience hearing problems.
We've already started the conversation of "what could he have done" to prevent hearing loss, and in his case, the question is moot. His parents experienced hearing loss in their 60s and so has he. The loud '60s rock music of my youth doesn't seem to have caught up with me, but experts say we should avoid prolonged exposure to excessively loud noise to protect our hearing. I worry that the music earphones that seem permanently affixed to my daughter's ears are harming her hearing.
So what exactly is our range of hearing? The human ear can detect sounds ranging from 0 decibels to 120 decibels (known as the "threshold of pain"), according to Adrenaline Radio. Check out the slideshow below for Adrenaline Radio's collection of common sounds and their everyday decibel ratings.