Difficulty understanding the voices of women and children is a common complaint that we hear every day as audiologists. It is typical to have some high frequency hearing loss as a result of normal aging and also as a result of being around loud noise. Women and children often have higher frequency voices. High frequency hearing loss listening to higher frequency weighted voices equals difficulty understanding conversation.
Another complaint we often hear is that people “mumble.” This comment causes frustration for family members and friends who know they are not mumbling. They feel the patient is using this as an excuse. In actuality, the hearing impaired person is not hearing some of the consonant sounds, resulting in only hearing part of the words. That makes it sound like a mumble.
Lastly, when a person only has a hearing loss in the high frequencies, they often hear very well one-on-one in quiet. Difficulties arise in noisy situations, in groups, when people are walking away and speaking, and in the car. This can be deceiving, because the hearing impaired person knows that they hear fine sometimes. It is easy to place the blame on the people around you in the situations where you have difficulty. It is important to counsel both the patient and the spouse or significant other, because there are often hurt feelings and definite frustration caused by placing blame or making accusations. Once the hearing loss is explained and we discuss what areas the loss would impact, we see understanding dawn on both faces!
Hearing loss is not cut and dried and the impact it has is very personal. We must not generalize and we must listen to our patients and their family members to see the clear picture before we can help improve the situation.