An elderly person is holding their hand up to their ear to hear better

People often ask what they are actually missing when they don’t hear. Much depends on the frequencies affected and the amount of hearing loss. What we miss is also determined by our unique ability to clarify speech in both quiet and noise.

As we age, many of us lose hearing in the high frequencies. Some examples of high frequencies are children’s voices, female voices, and birds. When high frequency hearing is lost, we don’t hear the consonant sounds in speech. Try taking the consonants out of a sentence. It will be impossible to read. If you remove only the vowels and you are a decent reader, the sentence will make perfect sense. Consonants help us clarify or understand.

Vowels and speech sounds produced in the back of the throat comprise low frequencies. Male voices or a car horn are also examples of low frequencies. When low frequency information is missed, we usually need help with volume.

In a quiet environment, most of us do quite well conversing, even without hearing some of the high frequencies. When we have a conversation, there are usually enough clues that allow us to fill in the blanks. The difficulty begins when the room gets noisier. Background noise can be distracting as it gets louder and the clatter is most often low frequency. A noisy environment creates a perfect recipe for poor hearing as background noise covers up the good low frequency hearing we have. If we can’t hear the high frequencies, it is often difficult if not impossible to carry on a conversation.

A normal ear will hear speech clearly. An ear with damage to the hearing nerve may or may not hear speech with the same clarity. Imagine listening to a radio with a broken wire. When the hearing nerve is damaged, it can be this extreme. An Audiologist can easily evaluate your potential for hearing in quiet and noisy environments and will create a treatment plan.
If you find that hearing in a restaurant or group setting is more difficult than it used to be, schedule a hearing test. Find out what’s possible. You’ll be glad you did.