Chronicle of a deaf audiologist

Selective Hearing Versus Hearing Loss

Have you ever accused someone with hearing loss of having selective hearing? I’ve heard this accusation at times from significant others.

This may be an unfair accusation when applied to someone with hearing loss.

By its very nature, hearing loss results in selective hearing.

Photo credit:  ©lqoncept

First of all, people with hearing loss have to pay attention and expend a lot of effort when listening. And nobody can pay attention 100% of the time. So the person with hearing loss has to “select” when to hear.

Hearing loss is also selective in that we hear better in some situations than others. We hear better when: we are alert and focused; we are sitting close to the person who is speaking; when we can see the person we are talking to; and myriad of other variables such as where we are sitting in the room (if we have directional microphones).

Living with hearing loss myself, here are examples of times when I might not “choose” to pay attention: when I am tired; when the listening environment is challenging, such as at a noisy family gathering; when the person speaking is difficult to understand; when the conversation does not interest me (and therefore the ‘cost’ in terms of effort is higher than the perceived benefit).

If you know for a fact that I am tired, or that I am having difficulty hearing in this particular situation, I’d appreciate any efforts to make yourself easy to understand.

Here are some tips:

Don’t talk from another room. Sound can’t be transmitted from another room in the house. Call my name, and then wait for me to respond. This gives me a minute to stop what I am doing and get into my listening mode. Tell me what the topic is first.  Talk more slowly.

What are my responsibilities, as someone with hearing loss? In return, I promise to refrain from pretending to understand.

I promise to refrain from pretending that I am listening.

I will admit when my mind has wandered and ask you to repeat so I can re-enter the conversation.

I will answer immediately when you call my name. I will give you my full attention. I will acknowledge that I have heard what you have said.


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  • Photo credit:  © Alan Fortune

    Sandra Vandenhoff

    Dr. Sandra Vandenhoff is an audiologist with hearing loss, founder of HEARa, Hearing Rehabilitation teacher, and Canadian author, who does not remember saying on her first day of wearing hearing aids: "Mom, I can hear my shoelaces!"

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