Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center: “Selective Hearing” – or Hearing Loss?

Laura L. Brady, AuD, CCC-A | Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center

Very often, spouses and life-partners will suggest that their loved one has “selective” hearing – a self-made term indicating that they can hear perfectly fine most of the time, but tend not to hear their partner speaking. Is it simply a matter of “tuning out” – or could it be something else?

We all know that listening and hearing are not the same. Parents of two-year-olds and teens can attest to this. Both have the same tendency to “tune out” a parent’s instructions. However, children and teens likely hear what a parent is saying, but aren’t actively listening.

For adults, (spouses and partners in particular) it can seem rude and offensive not to respond when spoken to. However, hearing loss generally happens very slowly over a long period of time. Often, the subtle (and not so subtle) signs of hearing difficulty are more obvious to significant communication partners than to the person with the hearing loss.

Signs of Hearing Loss

  • Do you notice that someone you love is turning the television volume louder than others prefer?
  • Do you notice conversations on the telephone are becoming more difficult?
  • Have they answered a question that wasn’t asked, or responded with an inappropriate answer? (Example: Answering yes/no to the question, “What do you want for lunch?”)
  • Do they frequently need words repeated or ask for clarity?

How to Help

  • Make conversation face-to-face whenever possible so the person can see and hear you more clearly. Speaking from another room, or while facing away from a person makes any communication more difficult.
  • Be sure to speak clearly and at a reasonable volume. Mumbling or whispering can only add to the “tuning-out” habit.
  • In noisy environments, such as restaurants, it can be helpful to be seated against a wall or in a booth to limit background noise.
  • If you need to speak to someone who may listening to music or watching TV, ask them to turn it down while you speak to ensure clear communication.

Other Options

Even if a spouse or partner suspects “selective hearing” – or if they suspect true hearing loss, it can be difficult to get a definitive diagnosis for their loved one! For a variety of reasons (financial concerns about the cost of hearing aids, self-image, acceptance of aging, vanity…) we often hear of people who are reluctant to come in for a hearing evaluation.  It can be a tough topic to broach. Hopefully, these tips will help!

Suggest a hearing screening

  • Start with encouraging “just” a screening and let the audiologist handle the recommendations from there. A screening seems less invasive and less formal than a hearing test.
  • Schedule back-to-back hearing tests (father/daughter, husband/wife, friend/friend )
  • Having a loved one or trusted person come along for the shared experience can be reassuring. It’s also a second set of ears to remember what the audiologist said and any recommendations.

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