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When My Hearing Loss Results in Embarrassing Moments

I have a hearing loss. No big deal, right? But sometimes it is. Why can hearing loss be embarrassing in a unique way?

Hearing loss really shouldn’t be embarrassing. It is quite common. About 48 million Americans have hearing loss. This now includes one in five teenagers and 60 percent of our returning veterans. In fact, more people have hearing loss than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autism and osteoporosis combined! You probably know several people with hearing loss, maybe even yourself. Yet, the stigma remains.

Maybe it is because hearing loss is invisible. You can’t see it, so you may not know it is there. This may result in people with hearing loss being looked down on if they answer the wrong question or repeat something that someone else just said. We may also appear rude or unfriendly if we don’t reply to someone’s greeting or request for assistance.

I regularly get dirty looks from people while shopping. I used to wonder why everyone was so nasty all the time, but I have come to realize that they probably said, “Excuse me,” so I would move to the side and let them pass. Since I don’t hear them, I don’t move. They may think I am rude, and the dirty look is their reply.

I’ve long gotten over it, but recently my soon-to-be-teenage children started getting upset by it. They feel embarrassed that their mom does not behave “appropriately” and brings negative attention to the family. They have started tapping me on the shoulder to alert me when someone wants to pass, which is actually a big help.

Just last week, though, something happened that made me feel that old sense of embarrassment. I was waiting in a long line at the bank, but ran out of time, so I left. A piece of paper had fallen out of my purse, but I hadn’t realized it. I was halfway down the block before I finally heard the nice man yelling, “Excuse me, ma’am, you dropped this paper.” I only noticed because other pedestrians on the street were stopping and turning to look at me. I felt like a fish out of water, and a little panicked at being the center of this unwanted attention.

When he finally caught up with me, the man looked so annoyed, I could only mumble a reply and point to my ears. “I’m so sorry,” I said, “I didn’t hear you.” He just shook his head and walked back to the bank. I’m not sure he believed me, since I don’t really “look the part.” I am 47, not a stereotypical senior with hearing loss. I felt embarrassed, especially since that piece of paper was not important.

Over the years, I have grown a pretty thick skin when it comes to my hearing loss, but for people newly diagnosed, it can be a tough road. Many people might go out of their way to hide it — ignoring it, denying it, or making excuses to themselves that other people are mumbling. In fact, it takes people an average of seven years to seek treatment once they first recognize a problem. It took me 10. That’s a lot of missed conversations and intimacy because of embarrassment. It’s not worth it.

My advice — if you know you have a hearing loss, or just think you might — forget the embarrassment. Get your hearing checked, accept treatment, and continue on with your vibrant and engaging life.

A version of this post originally appeared on Living With Hearing Loss.

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Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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