Is it Selective Hearing? Or is it Hearing Loss?

It's not uncommon for people to not recognize the signs of hearing loss. That's especially true of spouses who may quickly believe that their loved one simply has selective hearing.


Is it Selective Hearing? Or is it Hearing Loss?

It's not uncommon for people to not recognize the signs of hearing loss. That's especially true of spouses who may quickly believe that their loved one simply has selective hearing. Selective hearing is a term some people use that refers to another person's lack of responding to them, not because of hearing loss but because they don't want to respond or they are focused on something else. When your spouse doesn't answer your questions or hears you calling from the basement, are they choosing not to respond, or is it something else?

Are They Just Tuning You Out?

If you've ever had a teenager or a two-year-old, you know what tuning out means. They may hear you talking, but they are not paying attention to what you are saying. They are not listening. "They hear what they want to hear." "They conveniently are not listening to you."

The same concept could be applied to your spouse or another adult you know. It's frustrating when you're saying something important, but they are not responding to it. 

In some situations, this lack of hearing and responding to you could indicate hearing loss. For many people, hearing loss starts slowly and worsens over time. It’s easy to believe that someone is just not paying attention or even choosing not to listen. 

If you notice significant changes in your spouse’s communication patterns, even if they do not recognize the problem themselves, that could indicate a larger problem with hearing loss. 

Common Signs of Hearing Loss

How do you know when your spouse or other loved one is suffering from hearing loss? If you are sitting around the table with friends, but they are not speaking as often as they used to, how do you know that’s a hearing problem and not just a lack of interest?

There’s no real way to know what’s happening until a comprehensive hearing test happens. There are some common signs that it may be time for you to reach out for one.

The TV Volume Challenge

Do you always have to turn the TV's volume down? Perhaps they turn it up increasingly throughout the evening as you are watching together. You may not think the TV volume needs to go up, or there may not be much other sound in the home while they are watching TV. Sometimes people may say, "Why do they make the music so loud?" Other times the background noise on the TV show seems distracting. 

What Did You Say

Another indication of hearing loss occurs when a person asks people often to repeat information. I may ask you numerous times a day about what you said. It may seem like they are just not paying attention to you, and that is frustrating. You may even believe your loved one doesn't care enough to listen. Also, notice if they do this with other people. Do they ask other people to repeat themselves often?

Do They Just Say Yes or No?

Sometimes, people recognize their hearing is becoming more challenging, but they don't bring it up. They don't want to ask you to repeat yourself numerous times, so they just say yes or no even though they haven't really heard the question. If you ask an open-ended question, such as about an opinion or what they want for dinner, and they say yes or no rather than providing an answer, that could mean they were unable to hear you. 

Are Phone Conversations Difficult?

Many people begin to struggle with hearing loss and notice it when they cannot talk on the phone well. Sometimes they blame the phone for being hard to hear, or they may believe the other person on the line is not speaking into the phone. No matter what the reasoning is, when phone conversations with more than one person start to become difficult, that's an indication of a larger problem that needs attention.

Withdrawing from Social Activities and Conversations

Those with hearing loss often begin removing themselves from conversations. They may no longer engage as often with friends or family. They seem withdrawn and quiet. This happens whether they know they are struggling with hearing loss or even when they do not. Sometimes they are embarrassed to have to ask for information to be repeated. Other times, they simply don’t engage in busy environments because they know it’s too hard to hear. Have you noticed your loved one just not participating like they used to or having other behavior changes related to social activities or interactions with other people? 

They Seem Exhausted After Socializing

What happens after dinner with friends in a busy restaurant? Does your loved one simply come home and want to be alone? Do they feel like they are very tired after such socialization opportunities? There is no doubt that being unable to hear well and constantly straining to be able to hear others is exhausting. It's not always easy to put these things together, but try to pay attention to how your loved one acts after these types of social situations that are specifically new to them.

If you’re unsure if your loved one does these things often or just once in a while, take the next few days to track these instances. How often are they not paying attention to the conversation? Remember, a person with hearing loss has no control over it and probably did nothing to cause it. They need compassion in these situations.

Making the Decision to Get a Hearing Test

If you've noticed these types of changes and want them to get help, the first step is to have a hearing test. It's very common for people to pull back. They may even say they are stressed or not interested in talking anymore. Sometimes they are so reluctant they may work hard to make it seem like they can hear just fine, aiming to prove you wrong.

This is a difficult topic for many. Some also find it challenging to admit they need hearing help because they are worried about their self-image or the costs of hearing aids. These are valid concerns, but not being able to hear will significantly impact their quality of life. 

On average, a person will wait 7 years before they visit a hearing specialist even if they know they are having some level of hearing loss. 

Talk about the benefits of treatment with your loved one. 

  • Getting back to the things they love. It could be watching TV, interacting with friends, or enjoying hobbies again. Make sure your loved one sees how hearing aids could help them enjoy life again.
  • Recognize the risks to mental health. A person with hearing loss that does not seek treatment is at a higher risk of developing depression and dementia. This occurs because they are unable to take in the world around them as they did. It impacts brain cognition, not just mental health. 
  • They could see relationships improve. Hearing loss can create significant rifts in a person's relationships, whether it's a family member who doesn't understand or a friendship they no longer connect with. A hearing aid may help them to get back to it again. 
  • It could get worse. If hearing loss isn’t treated, it can worsen significantly. Early detection may enable a person to get treatment that can slow the decline or at least help to meet that decline with additional treatment. 
  • It’s unsafe. Explain how important it is that they can hear you. What if you need help? What if it worsens and they cannot drive any longer? What if they cannot talk on the phone again? 

Provide a supportive level of conversation for your loved one. Hearing loss is devastating, and it is often easier not to talk about or admit what's occurring – and even be blamed for having selective hearing – than it is to recognize the real problem in front of them.

Can Hearing Loss Be Treated?

A common question many experiencing the first stages of hearing loss have is this one. “Is there anything that can be done anyway?” Some people believe that this is just part of life and something they have to deal with as they get older. 

There are highly effective treatment options for most people. That's especially true in situations where a person's hearing is getting worse over time. While hearing aids may seem hard to use and embarrassing, today's products are highly effective and less likely to be noticed in a person's ear. More so, attitudes and perspectives on the use of hearing aids have changed. Since they are more readily acceptable, more people have them. 

Keep in mind that many specialized products are available today to help a person hear better. Without a doubt, it is necessary to have a hearing test and a professional fitting for a hearing aid based on the type of losses your spouse is experiencing. Don't put off having that hearing screening done. It could significantly improve your life and that of your loved one.

Audiologist Marni Novick Los Gatos, CA

Dr. Marni Novick

Founder & Audiologist

Marni Novick, AuD, is founder of Silicon Valley Hearing, Inc., which opened its doors in 2014, with the promise of delivering honest and affordable hearing healthcare, along with exceptional customer service to her valued patients.

About Dr. Novick