Not hard of hearing, hard of thinking?

Posted by tailspin @tailspin, Jan 18 7:19pm

Spent too many years around aircraft jet and round engines (plus genetic predisposition) so I wear COSTCO hearing aids.

But I sometimes wonder if I'm actually hard of thinking not hard of hearing, as my wife puts it when she's being funny.

I'm not offended because I know she's kidding, but there may be a thread of truth in what she says. Almost every time she speaks I say "What?" and she repeats herself and I then I hear/understand what she said. It's become a deeply ingrained habit for both of us...I've tried very hard not to do it, but—and here's the point—I know I actually heard sounds she made the first time, I just didn't understand them.

I gather not understanding conversation is a first indication of hearing loss, so I wonder if somehow my "What?" from pre-hearing aid days carried over, even after using them.

FWIW (For What Its Worth) I am also extremely frustrated by the number of errors I make using a keyboard, even to the extent I have replaced several Apple Magic Keyboards in hopes they were the culprit.

Didn't take tying in high school (it should be a required course), but have used one since Apple ][+ days. Could 50% accuracy in a typing test I just took (does anyone still use a typewriter?) be related, if a psychophysiologist is reading this?

Wirth best regaard ti all


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Hey Tom!
I love your sense of humor!! Yes that's two !! for you. I read and reread your post and wasn't sure at first if it was tongue-in-cheek or not, because I relate to the "Hard of thinking" idea. I completely missed your sign off! Ugh, I'm using way to many of these !.

I think my connection with "Hard of thinking" is my need to take some time to think about what someone has just said to me before I answer. So, instead of just staring blankly at the person who has asked me a perfectly lucid question, while my brain tries to find a similarly perfectly lucid answer, I will say "What" to try and hide the need for thinking time. That usually doesn't work...I usually come across as being...well, many things; manipulative, being one! Nevertheless I do continue to use the technique. (Insert eye roll emoji here)

So, I will happily join your band of Hard of Thinkers! Glad that my method now has a name!

Best Regards Back At You (Yes I took typing in High School)


Such an interesting question/observstion. My husband is extremely hard of hearing, even though he uses top-notch hearing aids, AND has suffered a stroke a decade ago. Between the two events he has developed what strikes me as something in the order of “conversational phobia.” It seems to take an astonishing amount of energy for him to engage in conversation. I think the process of physically hearing, interpreting the sounds, making meaning of the words, and finally formulating a response is just overwhelming. “Auditory processing” is an area of expertise I’ve been hearing about. You might find it worthwhile to find somebody who’s involved in that field.


Thank you, Tom, for a fascinating question. I think my husband and I (mid-70’s) may have developed the “What?” habit also. We both suffer from hearing loss, mine much more serious than his. I often truly do not hear what he has said, particularly if he is some distance away or not facing me. Nevertheless, I do think there is something to the “hard of thinking” idea. If conversation, even under ideal conditions for hearing, is intermittent, we are sometimes lost in our own thoughts or activity when someone speaks to us, and even if we have technically “heard” the words accurately, it probably takes some period of time to pull ourselves away from our own musings and focus on what has been said and formulate a response. From my own experience, I know mental function slows down with age; thinking, selecting and ordering words takes more time than our more agile younger brains required. The “What?” interim gives us a chance to digest the question and find the right words to respond. I think your wife is a wise woman to have come up with “hard of thinking.”

I have been astonished at the multitude of fundamental changes that hearing loss brings with it. I always thought it was just that sounds faded away and needed to be amplified to be heard. Was I ever wrong! It presents a panoply of new things to deal with that I could not have imagined ten years ago. Thank you and your wife for shedding light on one more of them for us. I think this is the way we learn to live with what is happening to us, not to mention learning that we are not alone with this experience.


Hi Tom,
I too have enjoyed your post. "Growing old ain't for sissies"!
For hearing changes, my last hearing test was educational as well as shocking. One part of the test is the list of words, usually with two syllables, and your task is to say what the word is. As the test was happening I
realised that things have changed: I had failed the "word recognition" portion. I had never heard of "word recognition". The explanation given was when you do not hear a word for some time, the brain 'deletes' it from understanding. I can hear the person's sentence, but there is that one word that is a scrabble - even when repeated, I cannot 'get it'. Then they said the worst part.... loss of word recognition does not come back! I am to use my lip reading skills. Then I went home to mourn !
So I am wondering when you had your last hearing test. I have had long periods of 'no change', then for a few years, my hearing dropped with each testing. It is recommended to have hearing tests every year - for us seniors.
The encouraging news is there are new testing methods and new technologies in hearing aid advances all the time. The frustration of hearing loss is another task for 'acceptance' in the challenges of aging: To quote kmseay,
"the multitude of fundamental changes that hearing loss brings". How true.
I am chuckling at Tom's wife's phrase, "hard of thinking" - a new colloquial is born. I told my buddies here in our seniors building, and got a knowing laugh all round! Always supportive to know that 'we' are many !


Word recognition? Does Mayo
researchers feel this cannot
return if one starts using the
words again?


I am loving this "hard of thinking" conversation. I do find that the speed of my processing skills has slowed down. I do not say "what?", but I do lean in and say, "I'm sorry." while cupping my good ear to let them know I am still processing. Like someone said, it beats the blank stare while you process.
I have one completely deaf ear and one that is slowwwwly going downhill. I also find that, many times, it is not the volume when they speak, but the tone. I can understand some people better than others. I really do best when I can lip read along which requires all of my attention on them. I hate when they yell because that just distorts the sound more.
So everything you guys are saying makes sense.
Actually I feel sorry for those speaking to me because I know they get frustrated trying make me understand. Sometimes my best friend will tap me on the shoulder and say, "you didn't hear a word I just said, did you?"
But yes, some of it is habit. Maybe I just need to hear everything twice to take it all in. Hard of newest favorite phrase.


@tailspin and everyone else, this is truly a fascinating topic. I am no hearing expert, and my hearing loss at this point is labelled "mild" - at the point where aids would be more of a nuisance than a help according to two different audiologists. But I find myself saying "What?" more and more...then 2, 3, 5 seconds later realizing what was said. I think maybe, in my case, some sounds are "falling out" of my ability to hear, and it takes my brain that long to "fill in the blanks" based on context and my vocabulary.

Does anyone else think this might be happening to them?


It’s not “hard of thinking.”

I started out with hearing loss on just one side in the mid-1970s, and the first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t tell where sounds were coming from. I had to learn to look left twice before crossing a street after I nearly got run over a few times.

Then, about 20 years post-radiation, I had a sudden loss of hearing in my “good” ear that I detected when bells on Christmas ornaments stopped ringing. It’s not a failure to listen “hard enough.” Paying extra-close attention is not going to get those bells to ring for me.

When I listen to songs that I remember from my youth, they don’t sound the same. I assumed that my brain would be able to fill in the parts that I am missing, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. I can put a Beatles CD in my car stereo but I don’t even recognize the songs half the time when they play.

When I am trying to use a talking GPS device to navigate in a car, I can’t tell “turn left” apart from “turn right.” I lost the ability to differentiate between “two” and “three” about 40 years ago, even though the vowel sounds are completely different.

My brain is able to fill in some gaps in dialogue when I am talking to someone, but that is because of context. If you are talking about cooking, you anticipate words that pertain to food. But numbers often don’t have context. You can’t guess which numerals you are missing when someone recites a phone number or street address.

Personally I don’t like “hard of hearing” because it’s an invitation for wisecracks that I don’t want to hear. I understand that “hard of hearing” is supposed to be acceptable but I don’t remember being asked to vote on that question. I call myself deaf with a lower-case d.


I had a very similar experience. When I returned home from Viet Nam (1968) there seemed to be fewer crickets and birds. And I listened to and could enjoy the music that I knew, but was unable to understand the words to new music. Being relatively young at the time I didn't realize the problem was my hearing and not cricket mortality.

And I agree that "hard of hearing" is a lousy term to describe our hearing loss. But then "hearing loss" does not accurately describe people who never had good hearing.

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