‘What’d you say?’ A treatise for the hearing challenged at 50+

We are here to say that we have a new-found compassion for the plight of the hearing challenged. Why now? Because, difficult as it is to admit, we have joined these ranks. We now find ourselves having to turn up the volume on the TV and car radio, crane our necks to hear what people are saying, step closer to people when we converse, and even read their lips. 


And though we really hate to share this, we are since you may be experiencing the same challenges. We need each other’s help! Sadly, we find ourselves responding more and more to someone who is talking to us with a reply of: “What? What’d you say?” or “Would you mind repeating that; I didn’t get all you said.”   

So far, we don’t experience the problem all the time. Sometimes like others, we can’t hear when we’re in a noisy restaurant or music is blasting. Barbara has been told by her beau that it’s certain decibel levels she doesn’t hear well. Margaret knows this to be so true especially when she had to deal with her late father, and Barbara is now experiencing the same issue with her mother. 

Typical phone conversation between Margaret and her father
Phone rings. Dad: HELLOO! (Very loud.)
Margaret: “Hi dad. How are you doing?”
Dad: What do you mean? I’m not going anywhere.
Margaret: No dad, H O W   A R E  Y O U  D O I N G?
Dad: What? What’d you say? (Margaret rolls her eyes.)
Margaret: How are you? Margaret raises her voice and speaks slowly into the phone.  Dad, are you wearing your hearing aids?
Dad: What’d you say?
Margaret: Your hearing aids. Are you wearing them?
Dad: No. They don’t work.
(Funny how well he could hear when her mother would tell him the price of a purse she had purchased.)

Barbara’s typical conversation with her 98-year old mother, usually in person
Barbara: Do you want your sandwich on toast or a bagel?
Mother: What’d you say? What about most?
Barbara: Mother, maybe you need a hearing aid.
Mother: Your grandfather had one and it didn’t work at all.
Barbara: But mother, that was decades ago, and they have been improved dramatically since then.
Mother: What’d you say?
Barbara: Point well taken. (I give up, Barbara mumbles to herself and so softly she can’t even hear what she said.)

Unfortunately, hearing loss has trickled down to our generation. 

Exchange between Margaret and her daughter 
Early morning.
Daughter: Mom, do you want some raspberries to munch on?
Margaret: Why would I want lunch now? It’s 8 in the morning.
Daughter: No, do you want some raspberries? And she sticks the box under Margaret’s nose.
Margaret: Oh that. No thank you.
Daughter: Mom, you can’t hear.
Margaret: That’s ridiculous. I just don’t understand why you mumble when you speak. I always taught you to enunciate.
Daughter: Mom, you should have your hearing tested.
Margaret: What?
Daughter: That’s what I mean.
Margaret replies defensively: Why do you whisper? Then I wouldn’t need a hearing aid. I hear other people just fine. 

Exchange between Barbara and her beau 

The TV is on and they’re watching Season 2 of their favorite current show, The Crown.
Barbara: Can you turn the volume up since I can’t hear it well. Maybe, it’s their English accent.
Beau: I don’t think it is totally the accent, and think they’re speaking pretty loudly. I think it’s the decibel level.
Barbara: What’d you say, could you repeat that?
He turns volume louder ….I think you are having a problem.
Barbara: What?

Exchange between Barbara and one daughter
Barbara: I didn’t catch all you said; I was in the other room.
Daughter: MOM, you’re really going DEAF!
Barbara: I think you’re exaggerating!
Dead silence. 

While we know this is getting serious, we also recognize that many in our generation have avoided the topic for as long as we have. And for good reason. It’s hard accepting that our bodies are beginning to break down. 

Also, visions (not of sugar plums) come dancing before our eyes, and they aren’t a pretty sight. Suddenly, we are our grandparents wearing thick hearing aids behind our ear lobes. Maybe, we’ll next be using a cane and buying books in LARGE PRINT type. Yes, we’ve become old! We’ve heard so much over the years: the chirping of birds and crickets, sounds of babies waiting to be fed, orders shouted to us by our spouses/partners and children, jets taking off, loud rock music. Our ears are worn out like the grooves in a vinyl record that’s been played on and on. 

Regardless, both of us decided to seize upon this nugget as a viable starting point to address the hearing loss that appears to be a growing epidemic among our peers. It seems like an easy fix. Get a hearing aid! 

We are resistant, however, because:

  • They will make us look old. Infirm. Feeble. It’s in the same category as using a walker or cane.
  • They’re so expensive. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy, cheap commercial fix for bad hearing. We can’t go to Walgreens and buy a set of hearing aids like we do cheater reading glasses when it becomes difficult to see words on a page. Hearing aids are costly and not covered by insurance.

Do we go through life asking: “What? What?”

There are the courageous among us. One friend who has lots of hair has worn hearing aids for a few years. No one noticed because they are so refined with very thin almost non-discernable wires going from behind her ears to her inner ears.


Same with a woman Margaret worked with. Margaret never noticed the hearing aids until one day when a group of women from work were having lunch and the conversation went this way. One woman was telling a story when the group collectively said, “What did you say?” The colleague with the hearing aids translated and at the same time pulled back her hair to reveal her hearing devices as proudly as if she were showing off a new pair of diamond studs. Ironically, the diamond studs probably would cost less. 

Doctor of Audiology and, Board Certified Audiologist Leisa Lyles-DeLeon in Washington, DC said, “Of the nearly 35 million hearing impaired Americans, 11 percent of the U.S. population, more than 25 million of them do not have a hearing aid." People avoid hearing aids although they are new and improved. In addition, they are:

  1. Smaller and nearly invisible styles with power
  2. Receiver-in-canal styles for high frequency hearing loss
  3. Digital processing with computer chips to address a wide range of challenges
  4. Wireless programming - listen to television, cell phone, or home stereo through your hearing aid
  5. Work with your iPhone or Android as a controller

 Until we’re ready to invest, we’re considering compensating with these tactics:

  • Learn sign language.
  • Draw pictures of our thoughts like they do in the New York Times
  • Put everything in writing—texts or FB, even if the person we’re “conversing” with is standing next to us.
  • Tweet when appropriate—at least it keeps the conversation short.
  • Record what is being said so we can turn up the volume and listen to it later. Of course, this doesn’t make for much of a scintillating conversation.
  • Start noticing the different kinds of hearing aids people wear and pay attention to different models on “old folks” in AARP ads; we even discuss a shopping expedition when we’re together in the same city.
  • Plug in: walk around with a headset or ear buds so everyone knows whatever they say won’t be heard. And then there’s no problem!
  • Avoid going out to restaurants and eat at home where we can pretend we hear everything.

At the same time we take stock of the advantages of not hearing so well. It’s great to unplug: Sometimes we ask ourselves, do we really need to hear what’s going on in the world? Yes, most of the time. And the reason is that we’re both too curious to miss out on anything. 

So we continue to delude ourselves. It will get better. And then we pass a mirror, take a glance at our aging persona and know in that instant why we can’t hear as well as we used to. That doesn’t mean we can’t ask our supreme being (God) if it’s possible to make our hearing issues go away. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to hear his or her response. But then again he’s not in the next room.

Next week: Did you hear us? Part II. An interview with Doctor of Audiology and, Board Certified Audiologist Leisa Lyles-DeLeon.






  • Claire

    Very realistic and honest words about a topic many of us are grappling with. We know on one level we are “there״ but continually put it in the back burner where unfortunately it resides. Thanks for bringing it back to the front one!

  • Deborah Leavy

    Try Costco for hearing aids! When my audiologist tried to sell me a pair for $7000, a doctor friend recommended the ones he wore from Costco — less than $2000/pair. Not free, but $5000 cheaper! No hearing aid brings back your hearing to full strength, but they do help.

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