Hearing loss makes me talk too quietly (I think) - ideas?
September 6, 2013 12:50 PM   Subscribe

The common sterotype of people with hearing loss is that they SPEAK TOO LOUDLY!!! in order to hear their own voices; for me, though, the problem is starting conversations just a bit too quietly to be easily understood. How can I fix this?

BACKGROUND: I'm 31. ~7 years ago I was diagnosed with bilateral, "mild to moderately severe" sensorineural hearing loss and since then I've worn hearing aids every day at work. I don't wear them while commuting (where I prefer headphones to block out the subway squeal and other noises) and also typically not at home (to give my ears a break, because I have trouble with infections/congestion, and not a little bit because I can't be bothered to put them back on when I get home after my commute).

My hearing loss is most troublesome with regard to speech in environments with competing voices, music, or background noise from ventilation systems, or when the speaker's English is accented. For the most part, though, I hear OK thanks to my hearing aids "out in the wild".

PROBLEM: For much of my life, but increasingly lately, I've had trouble starting off conversation at the right volume. Whenever this happens I'm too quiet, the other person needs me to repeat myself, I do so a little more loudly, and then we're off to the races. It's frustrating because without fail I feel like the first time was totally the right volume "in my head". I feel like I'm speaking clearly and appropriately, and the second attempt doesn't usually feel like I'm talking that much more loudly, either.

Reflecting on this recently, I came up with a few images from my childhood of being scolded in grade school for "yelling" in class when I wasn't meaning to do so, apologizing to teachers, them saying something like, "OK, but you just need to be more aware of how loud your voice can be". I understand that this is probably a normal childhood experience, but since I didn't know about my hearing loss until much later (and I am told the hearing loss was likely there all along, not getting worse over time), it's possible I was having trouble with the volume of my voice in the other direction back then and ended up habitually over-compensating by learning to talk just a bit too quietly in social situations... and now, I could be pushing it down further by only wearing my hearing aids half the day, affecting my perception of the relative loudness of the environment and the sound of my own voice "in my head".

When I was younger, I might have bought the idea that not "speaking up" was a matter of confidence - but this affects me as much or more among friends and in comfortable settings as it does when stress might plausibly be a relevant factor.

I raised this with my GP once a couple of years ago, in terms of a referral for speech therapy when we were discussing a related matter, and he didn't seem to think it was much of a problem (i.e., he could hear me well enough). But that now I'm finding myself literally saying to my wife - "Oh man, again? Was I really talking that quietly?" after I have to repeat myself to her (as though she's the one with the hearing loss, not me) I feel like revisiting it.

All of the information I can find online about voice volume and hearing loss is geared toward convincing loud-talkers (like your boomer parents) that they have hearing loss, so it isn't really much help.

Does anyone have any experience with this? I've read the good advice here about voice training, but wonder about the hearing aspect. Also, I really don't have any spare cash for a series of sessions with a non-insured/non-medicalized route like "voice training" or "coaching" right now because of student loans and debt from (wait for it) hearing aids. I'm going to try wearing my hearing aids more at home to see if it helps, but anything I can try to do more actively would be much appreciated.
posted by onshi to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I also wear hearing aids in both ears and have since I was 5 years old. I've pretty much never been able to perfectly regulate my speaking volume so I encourage others to tell me if they need me to talk louder or more quietly. My husband will make hand motions. Like you, I really don't perceive a change in my speaking volume.

Have you just asked people "can you hear me okay"? If it's someone you talk to repeatedly (e.g. friends), can you ask them to indicate whether you're being too quiet? I sense that you're kind of embarrassed and it's really common for hearing-impaired folks to feel like they're somehow at fault for not being able to participate in conversation like a "normal" person. Sometimes people look at us like we're just not trying hard enough. But of course it's not true; we have to put forth more effort to understand others and to make ourselves understood.

So - I think it is a confidence issue in a way - you're not quiet because you're stressed, but you're not asking (as far as I can tell) for what you need from others. It can be as simple as "So, Dan, about that project --- can you hear me alright? -- yeah, so we're on budget ..."
posted by desjardins at 1:32 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Have you just asked people "can you hear me okay"?

I'm 48 and have moderate-to-severe hearing loss "consistent with extended exposure to loud noise" but don't have hearing aids because of the expense. Almost any background noise makes it difficult to hear.

If I find that I need to ask someone to repeat themselves (or I just don't understand them) more than once I immediately say something like, "Sorry, I have some hearing problems. Can you repeat that?" but I don't dwell on it or make a big deal about it. I've found that people are extremely patient and helpful if they know right away that the conversation has challenges, especially if you're younger and no one is expecting it to be an issue.

I think because the damage was self-inflicted (years of loud music, no ear plugs) I've avoided the (very common) difficulties that desjardins talks about, but if you can do it I think you will be pleased at the response.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:20 PM on September 6, 2013


Are you unable to judge because the hearing aids make your voice sound too loud in your head? Or just because you are gun-shy about being too loud.

Maybe the hearing aids aren't adjusted correctly and is overcorrecting in some frequency bands? It seems like some of your complaints would center around them being too loud.

As for self-correcting, you might need to teach yourself how to pick up on body language. And maybe work with some kind of voice coach to make sure you are getting good projection out of your voice. You could be sort of swallowing your voice.

(I have a touch of hearing loss, and in the same range. Noise + voices are the worst. I find that when I turn the radio up loud enough to hear well, the treble range is uncomfortably loud and I have to turn it way down. (Ugh, now I know why grandpa's radio always sounded funny))
posted by gjc at 2:28 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have your same diagnosis, though my hearing loss was discovered when I was three. I think the stereotype of the hard of hearing person talking too loud is due to people losing their hearing as adults, like elderly people. Among the born deaf and hard of hearing people I've met, the issue has usually been us talking too quietly. I think this is likely due to what you mentioned—people telling us at a young age that we're too loud and then we become hypersensitive to that because we know we cannot accurately judge our vocal volume.

The tips about projection are good—I don't think you need to worry about speech therapy if your actual speech is clear and people are only unable to understand because of your volume. I think you can find information on vocal projection online, it's a common theater (and other spoken performances) technique. The key to that is that you shouldn't be making yourself hoarse.

Are you unable to judge because the hearing aids make your voice sound too loud in your head?

To me, my voice is always louder to me in my head than other people register it. This has been true with hearing aids (both digital and analog) and without, so I think this is normal?
posted by autoclavicle at 5:35 PM on September 6, 2013


Although I am an SLP, I am not your SLP, and although your post is great, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any more than this: I would really encourage you to visit a speech-language pathologist. Even if it was for a few sessions, you'll be able to problem-solve these issues with someone who is trained in these things. I would encourage you to get a referral from your GP and go the insurance route. Quality of life (QOL) is important and often short-term therapy can be approved based on that. Check your policy on number of visits covered (if at all).

One thing I do feel comfortable suggesting is that you find a "sound level meter" type app for the device of your choice. You can then see how loud your voice is, and adjust according to the meter. Have your wife talk with you, and have her indicate when you are two quiet. Look at the meter, and then adjust your voice to a level she says is fine, and then look at the difference in the meter readings. Since you said both levels don't sound all that different to you, having that visual feedback would be very helpful.

Good luck.
posted by absquatulate at 6:13 PM on September 6, 2013


As a former Hearing Instrument Specialist, and a hearing aid wearer (sensorineural loss) for 34 years myself, my take on this is your usage....

Hearing for people with hearing loss is partly training your brain. People who go undiagnosed for many years before receiving hearing assistance are often sensitive to certain sound frequencies and "jump" at certain noises like the "ding" from the microwave or other relatively normal sounds. Outside of the sound wave, bone conduction and cochlear processing of sound as it comes at them, the problem is, their brains have essentially forgotten how to process certain sounds/frequencies and it comes across as harsh or grating when they begin to hear things with assistance.

This is why it is recommended to consistently wear your hearing aids in your waking (and sometimes even non-waking) hours. You are training your brain!

What you describe here: "I've worn hearing aids every day at work. I don't wear them while commuting (where I prefer headphones to block out the subway squeal and other noises) and also typically not at home (to give my ears a break, because I have trouble with infections/congestion, and not a little bit because I can't be bothered to put them back on when I get home after my commute)."

Basically - I believe you may be affecting your own ability to regulate your speech consistently because you are switching from hearing to non-hearing mode so frequently. Because your voice sounds differently to YOU depending on hearing aids on/off or in/out - you may be subconsciously speaking lower because you may be afraid to speak too loudly (social norms, upbringing, manners, etc) and your unconscious thought is to speak lower - even when you are aware or thinking about it - you may not feel comfortable with what your default volume may be because it sounds so different to YOU at different times of the day.

Personally, I wear both my aids 18 hours a day and wear one while I sleep. (kids in the house) While not everyone may feel comfortable wearing one to sleep the consistency in the daytime is probably more important.

Hope this helps.
posted by emjay at 6:22 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


"People who go undiagnosed for many years before receiving hearing assistance are often sensitive to certain sound frequencies and "jump" at certain noises like the "ding" from the microwave or other relatively normal sounds."

Yes, totally - kitchen clatter (plates against each other in the cupboard, for example) makes me jump, in a startle-response and almost painful way.

Thanks so much for your answers, everyone.
posted by onshi at 1:16 PM on September 8, 2013


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