SENSITIVE HEARING

I was very interested to read about a group of individuals in this country who have started a Noise Pollution “crusade” against restaurants and stores that play their music at high volumes. It got me to thinking how difficult it is to please all of the people all of the time.

The efficiency of the sensory organs—vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch—declines with age, but the age of onset and rate of decline differ markedly among people. What is it like to hear only a mumbling voice when someone speaks to you? How does it feel when loud noises hurt your ears? The senses become less efficient with age. But age is not the only factor causing deterioration in the senses. Disease and environmental factors are also important. Intense and prolonged noise affects hearing, smoking reduces taste and smell sensitivity, and diabetes may affect vision. Sensory changes can influence the way we see, hear, taste, smell, and respond to touch and pain. This in turn affects how we experience the world and react to things. A significant sensory change can rob us of many simple pleasures and complicate the tasks of daily living. It may mean reduced mobility, increased dependence on others, inaccurate perception of the environment, reduced ability to communicate and socialize, or loss of self-esteem. Sensory changes vary from person to person. Fortunately, until their mid-80s most older adults are free from major sensory problems. If you experience sensory changes as you age, understanding these changes can help you respond effectively.

A hearing loss is potentially the most serious of the sensory impairments because it is our “social sense.” Unlike poor vision, hearing loss rarely inspires empathy and understanding. The seeing eye dog, thick glasses, and white cane all help identify the blind and visually impaired, but the person who is hard of hearing is not as easily identified. In regard to her deafness, Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind, stated: “I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus—the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.” Hearing loss affects more older people than any other chronic condition. From age 20 to 60, the rate of hearing impairments increases from 10 to 75 per 1,000 people. Between the ages of 60 and 80, the rate increases to 250 per 1,000 people. Approximately 30 to 50 percent of all older people suffer a significant hearing loss that affects their communication and relationships with others. Hearing loss can be devastating. It can lead to withdrawal, isolation, and depression. Even a slight loss can be emotionally upsetting, particularly if it interferes with understanding family and friends. Trying to understand conversation becomes frustrating and exhausting. Many people will withdraw from group situations, restrict their activities, and stay at home when it becomes difficult to listen and understand the conversation around them. Misunderstood conversations can lead to suspiciousness, paranoia, disagreements, and alienation from family and friends. Older people who try to cope by responding to what they think is said may be viewed as cognitively impaired, rather than hearing impaired. “Silence is golden. But the silence that comes from a hearing loss can make for loneliness.”

As management of restaurants or stores it is incumbent on you and your staff to be sensitive to your customers’ needs. If they complain about music levels react and turn down the volume, but be gentle. A 10 percentile reduction is usually enough and see if you can tailor some of the content to make it age appropriate.

I spent most of my life wearing headphones in studios. My hearing is still good, but not perfect. Loud music does make me uncomfortable but then I don’t do much clubbing these days!!!

A good rule of thumb is “listen to your clients”. Mother Grundies please stay at home!

About the author: Dalene Haugh