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Sorry, What Did You Say?

November 2, 2011
Wetzel Chronicle

As we get older many parts of our bodies begin to not function the way they used to. It is as if some cruel joke is being played on us as we mature and become knowledgeable, responsible members of the community. When we were younger, often we took our eyesight, and the senses of smell and tasting for granted. Good heavens! There is no way we will lose our youthful bodies. But, the sad truth is Mother Nature and time begins to make each of these things we take for granted more difficult. If you're lucky it won't begin to happen until you are invited to join AARP.

Do you remember when your arms began needing extensions to read the daily paper? Or that favorite food you have always enjoyed just doesn't taste the way it used to? How about the pleasant aroma of a good cup of coffee that doesn't get your attention anymore due lack of smell?

We can correct our changing eyes with the help of reading glasses. We added a little extra spice to our food to bring out the taste we remember and to recapture the sense of smell, well; they haven't quite figured that one out yet.

Modern medical science makes every effort to help us keep those important senses we were given in our youth. Billions of dollars are spent each year to preserve those human senses we believed we would have forever. The major manufacturers of these products are constantly bombarding us with appealing advertisement on TV and in print. Those commercials serve only to remind us of what we once had and their products that will help us regain them for a while.

There is one other of our senses that often changes with the passing years. It has become increasingly difficult for many of us to hear the sounds of the world around each of us. It seems that this affliction is often associated with the male members of our species. It also seems that females are gifted from an early age to hear everything around them and often remind the men in their world of that fact.

There are those that say men just don't listen to what they are told from an early age. They refine this skill as they grow older. I know someone probably told me that fact as I was growing up; most likely I didn't pay attention. I could hear. I just didn't process it when I was trying to make other important decisions. You know like, should I go fishing with the guys or can I put off cutting the grass until tomorrow? Men are always processing the important decisions they have to make in the daily world.

When men begin to reach a certain age that natural ability to separate out background noise is made worse by hearing loss. At that point you not only ignore what is said to you, but your ears no longer can hear the words properly. The world around you just turns into a constant drone of sounds. The sounds around us, including voices, begin to run together as a jumble.

We men are pretty good at adjusting to this world of muted sounds. Some men are constantly saying, "Sorry I didn't hear you" or "Huh?". But after awhile we learn to just look at the person speaking and nod appropriately and smile. If they laugh, we laugh. If they pause in the conversation, we may shake our head in agreement and say something like, "You're right". After a period of time we become experts in listening in a conversation in which we have little or no understanding of the words.

Our better halves are a little smarter than we sometimes give them credit. They know we are pretending to hear in conversation and help with missing words when appropriate. After a while they urge us to get what many believe is an easy cure, hearing aids. Most people consider these small devices when worn neatly inside the ear, as effective as a new pair of glasses for reading. That is not always true.

A short time ago in the middle of the rail yard at the plant I ran onto George Woofter, a man who I never remember without a smile. Throughout the last few years George and I would talk of the day when he would join the ranks of the retired. For George, that day came to pass the last Friday in July.

Last summer, I noticed he was wearing a pair of hearing aids during a conversation we were having. They were very small and if he had not turned his head they may have gone unnoticed by me. I asked if the hearing aids made a difference in what he could hear. I told him my wife had suggested that perhaps they would help me to better understand people talking around me. George explained they made the words louder but no more clear.

Like me, George's problem wasn't that he could not hear people speaking, but understanding the words was a problem. When a person speaks, sound waves move through the air at different pitch frequencies depending on if it is a vowel or a consonant. Our normal hearing is between the lower frequency level of about 500 and up into the upper range, which is a little into 3,000 decibels. If you lose the ability to understand any of the normal voice frequency, you miss parts of words. Words are made up of many different syllables that when spoken are expressed in frequency ranges. Lose near the top range of your hearing and you will miss certain parts of words. Lose the bottom range and now you can no longer hear portions of those words. Lose both and the ability to hear in a noisy background environment becomes nearly impossible, even with hearing aids.

I guess in our younger years we heard the words and often didn't pay attention. Today that problem is enhanced by the loss of hearing in pitch frequency in everyday words. When I was younger perhaps it was inattention to what was being said that gave me that blank stare when my wife talked to me. But today it is no longer my fault when I say, "Sorry, what did you say" as I look Thru the Lens.



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