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Why Are People Mumbling?

photo credit: Neil. Moralee via photopin cc

photo credit: Neil. Moralee via photopin cc

On Hearing Loss, and How to Work with It
by Carolyn Mandelker, Executive Director of Shambhala (and professional audiologist)

Do you experience any of the following?

• That people seem to be mumbling more than they used to?
• That some people’s voices are consistently harder for you to hear than other people’s?
• That you have a particularly difficult time hearing in noisy environments?
• That you feel you hear better when you are wearing your glasses?
• That your friends or family are adamant that you have difficulty hearing, but you feel you hear quite well?

After age 30, many people start to lose hearing sensitivity for high-pitched sounds. At first, it doesn’t affect you too much, but as it worsens slowly over time, there may come a time — typically in your early to mid 60’s – when you start to experience the world in the way I’ve described above.

Many of us naturally start to use compensatory strategies way before we even realize we have a hearing problem — we move closer to the person who is speaking, watch their faces and lips more closely, or begin choosing quieter, brighter environments for conversations.

The most surprising fact about gradual hearing loss is that often the person themself is the last to realize that they have a hearing loss!

Is this an issue in Shambhala?
As a trained audiologist I see the evidence in every gathering I attend.

For a start, 30% of all people over the age of 65 have significant hearing loss that interferes with ease of communication. (Many of the early students of Trungpa Rinpoche, who were in their early 20’s when they met Trungpa Rinpoche are now approaching (or over) 65 years of age and are noticing difficulty in this area.) In addition, there are many people who come to Shambhala with hearing loss that is unrelated to age.

Here is another surprising statistic: Research shows that on average, people wait 7 years from the time they first notice hearing difficulties before seeking help. This means that there are a lot of people out there who have trouble hearing, but don’t seek help.

The most common support is to wear personal hearing aids. However, many people are reluctant to do this, particularly if they feel they can “get by” without them.

Why would you consider hearing aids if you feel you can get by without them?

There are two good reasons:

1) as an act of kindness to yourself.

The idea of “getting by” is a slippery slope. Over time, people tend to withdraw further and further from social situations because of hearing difficulties.

You may have so much trouble hearing at the Shambhala Center or in restaurants, that you don’t go as often, and choose to stay home instead. Maybe you feel that you can’t ask people to repeat themselves, and then hesitate to contribute or contribute inappropriately to conversations because you couldn’t follow the thread of the conversation.

Hearing loss makes communication TIRING! Many people have told me that they have much more energy once they start using hearing aids because they don’t have to expend as much energy trying to figure out what people are saying. Addressing your hearing needs will help keep you maximally engaged with the people and activities that are meaningful to you.

2) as a gesture of kindness to your communication partners.

Over time, your family and friends may become increasingly frustrated and inconvenienced by your hearing loss. They are often required to speak more loudly than is natural to them, to speak to you from close range, to use the TV at a louder volume than is comfortable to them, to avoid environments and activities that are difficult for you. If there is something you can do to help, why not try it?

How do I try hearing aids? What if I don’t like them?

Tell your family doctor that you are experiencing difficulty hearing. They can refer you for a hearing test. An audiologist will do a thorough assessment of your hearing, and explain the results. If you have lost some hearing, (s)he will explain how this affects you, and will also ask you questions about your lifestyle to determine how much benefit you might derive from hearing aids.

You may decide to go ahead with a trial period with hearing aids. After much conversation about your needs and preferences, you and the audiologist will choose (together) the most appropriate hearing aid(s) for your particular hearing loss, based on price, style, technology etc. Reputable audiology offices (at least in Canada) offer a one-month trial with hearing aids, refundable at the end of the month if you are not satisfied. (Some insurance policies cover partial financial assistance as well; so do check your policy, if you have one).

What can we do as a community?

Teachers and leaders, please recognize that most audiences within Shambhala are likely to include at least some people who have hearing difficulties (whether they know it or not). Recognize that people with hearing difficulties often choose to sit on chairs rather than cushions, because of other physical difficulties. Most shrine rooms locate their chairs at the back. This puts hard-of-hearing people in the worst possible location for hearing and seeing the speaker, who is all the way at the front of the room, unless the speaker is amplified!

Therefore, always use a microphone when teaching or making announcements, even if you think you have a loud voice, or if you think the room is small enough for your voice to carry. Be aware that Q&A’s are difficult too, especially if the hard of hearing person is seated at the back, and the person asking the question is in front of them with their back turned. Please insist that the microphone gets passed around for Q&A. Consider placing some chairs on the sides of our meditation halls (rather than just in the back), so that some chairs can be situated closer to the speaker.

I hope this will help all of us engage more fully in hearing, contemplating and meditating, and will help us further our culture of kindness.

If you would like to ask questions, share your own experience, or engage this topic in any way, please join me on my blog: executivedirector.shambhalatimes.org

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8 responses to “ Why Are People Mumbling? ”
  1. Carolyn,

    Thank you for the piece I just read in the Shambhala Times on mumbling. Having waited the better part of two years, I am now 2 and 1/2 weeks into my very first set of hearing aids. Of course, there was a process I went through for decision and selection (Bernafon Acriva 9), and the current adjustment period is very real. But, given the synchronicity of your article and my acquiring experience, I did want to chime in with appreciation. I suppose in support of your article, I could also recommend to anyone who wishes to dig into a rich forum and learn more about these, I can recommend the following: http://hearingaidforums.com/

    All best,

    Ira Zukerman
    Bethesda, MD

  2. Mary Yamada
    Feb 10, 2014
    Reply

    I am grateful this subject has finally come up. Texting all talks, whether televised or spoken live in classes, is the answer for those few of us who are profoundly deaf for whom hearing aids are not the answer. I (and others who have experienced the grueling experience of taking notes for me) have beaten that drum repeatedly since I first began coming to the Davis Center around ’92 or so. Each year, on Shambhala Day, we hoped the Sakyong’s talk would be cc, and each year we have been sorely disappointed.

    Yours,
    Mary Yamada

  3. Geraldine Ferri
    Feb 11, 2014
    Reply

    Many public venues–theaters, places of worship, etc–are installing hearing loop systems. These systems directly transmit sound to hearing aids. To read about this technology see: http://www.hearingloop.org/

  4. Thank you so much for this sorely needed article.
    I started to loose hearing several yrs.ago & it was not until my daughter more than encouraged me to get hearing aids that I did.I lost one recently while travelling & was looking into purchasing another,when I heard about the event for MI’s that was happening in Victoria— to hear & see videos of the Sakyong & talks that would be given by Acharya Israel & Chapman talking about further instruction that was being given to MI’s .I contacted several people at that Center since it was quite costly for me to go & NOT be able to hear fully what was being said they were certainly willing to accommodate me but my feeling is that unless you yourself have that problem it is Not particularly useful to sit in front of the speakers.Had I had my new hearing aids I certainly would have gone no matter what the sound system was.Making the sound system louder is not the issue.One of the issues(I feel) is the timber of the voice,clarity of enunciation & the quality itself of the system.
    I now go to a national support grp.that is very helpful.My experience with hearing is that it is very individual & how one hears or doesn’t has to do a lot with the brain & its various connections.
    Thank you for presenting this format to voice my experience & I appreciate the comments of the others & agree.
    Iris TAnsman

  5. Carolyn,
    So glad you are addressing this. I realized 10 years ago that I wasn’t hearing well. Went to a professional and confirmed that. Took me a couple of years and decided to do it on my own and to get one $500 device on line It had 3 adjustment dials – so not the peak of hearing tech but it helped. Then in the spring of 1012 I went back to an audiologist and decided to go all the way, lots of money. But it turned out to be quite a good thing. I went to Hearing Rehabilitation Center, with several locations here on the front range. They just charge for the initial visit (I think) and the hardware. I have gone back many many times for adjustments without cost. There’s a 75 day trial on the devices and I switched after a couple of months and tried some other, somewhat cheaper ones, that turned out to work a lot better for me.
    One of the main discoveries is that it isn’t like correcting vision – where they do a test and there’s a prescription and it works. Hearing is a much more personal and somewhat mysterious sense perception and it does take a professional who is patiently working with someone until it works as well as it can. Which won’t be perfect I think, but it will help you function. For me the main point is, as a dharma teacher, I have to be able to hear and understand the question or comment. Now I get most of it.

  6. Carolyn Mandelker
    Feb 16, 2014
    Reply

    Ira,
    I’m so glad that you proceeded with hearing aids! Not only will it help you, but it will help your friends gain confidence in hearing aids, should they need them. The older hearing aids were nowhere near as good as the ones you can get now, so many people have a bad impression about hearing aids –perhaps having seen their parents’ frustration with older ones. Thanks for the link to the site. It looks informative and accurate!

  7. Carolyn Mandelker
    Feb 16, 2014
    Reply

    Dear Mary, Thanks for sharing your experience. We are looking into the possibility of providing a simultaneous typed text on screen while the Sakyong is speaking. This will help people with all levels of hearing loss, and also people for whom English is not their first language. I’m hopeful that we can do this this year, but can’t guarantee until we talk more with our Director of Shambhala Online. All the best.

  8. Carolyn Mandelker
    Feb 16, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you everyone. It’s great that you are all sharing your experiences–this will be helpful for others!


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