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  • Shelley Baltodano

Hearing vs. Understanding

Communication is the foundation of connecting with people and the world we live in. When we struggle to communicate, we may feel disconnected. Whether we admit it or not, as human beings our deepest desire is to be known and belong. Isn’t this why 2020 was so hard? We could not connect; we could not do the things we enjoy with the people we love.


With age related hearing loss, most people do not perceive difficulty comprehending and are left confused as to why others are frustrated. Their perception is “I can hear you just fine”. The person with hearing loss can carry on a conversation, hear things in the environment and enjoy a good TV program. The suggestion that hearing is the cause of their difficulties seems ridiculous! Friends and family easily identify a hearing problem because they have to repeat themselves. The information they are sharing is not interpreted correctly and there is miscommunication.


I’m sure you can recall a funny miscommunication where one word was exchanged for a similar sounding word and all of a sudden the meaning of the sentence changed. Everyone probably had a good laugh. When this happens chronically, it’s no longer funny. So, what does this have to do with age related hearing loss? Generally, hearing loss due to age affects the higher tones while hearing remains in the lower tones. This is important because speech is heard. Conversation may progress naturally but not all the sounds are audible (heard). Miscommunications happen. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it starts an argument.


Suddenly it becomes clear; hearing is not the same as understanding.


Aging is a major contributor to hearing loss. Even at the “young” age of 40 we may see decline in our ability to hear some sounds. Incorrectly understanding conversation can lead to embarrassment and withdrawal from social activities. We may feel left out. We may choose not to participate. We may avoid activities we enjoyed because it’s too difficult or embarrassing. Further, isolation contributes to depression and cognitive decline (more on this in another article).


Need some good news? There is help. There are communication strategies that can be learned to assist you in difficult settings. Hearing aids provide audibility, the ability to hear all the sounds necessary to understand speech. Communication is improved and reconnection can begin.