Dear Richard Madeley: My wife is now deaf and I miss our previous conversations – what should I do?

'The prospect of living without that kind of easy, intimate conversation is depressing me'
'The prospect of living without that kind of easy, intimate conversation is depressing me' - Ron Number

Dear Richard,

My wife is very deaf and has a hearing aid, which works pretty well, so she tells me, but does have what she calls a ‘harsh’ tone, so she prefers to have it turned down or off when she wants a bit of peace.

The trouble is that I don’t know whether she’s on or off, so I just start to chat in the way we used to, then there’s a big performance of her turning her hearing aid on, and then I have to repeat myself, often more than once. It’s getting to the point where I only speak when some piece of information needs to be communicated, and I really miss the companionship and the laughter we used to share.

This feels like something I’m just going to have to get used to – and I certainly don’t want her to feel worse about her deafness than she does already – but we’re not exactly ancient (late 60s), and the prospect of living without that kind of easy, intimate conversation is depressing me. Do you have any strategies for dealing with this?

— S, via email

Dear S,

Hmm. Much as I sympathise, I find your letter a bit odd on several levels. First, why is it a ‘big performance’ for your wife to switch her hearing aid on? It’s hardly powering up the Tardis, is it? It’s pretty much in or out, on or off, right? Is it her who thinks it a ‘big performance’, or is it you? And if you aren’t sure whether her hearing aid is on, why not just ask her? How difficult is that, S?

I don’t understand why I’m having to point out such an obvious strategy to you. But perhaps the answer lies in the fact that – going purely by your letter – it’s you who is irritated by the business of your wife needing a hearing aid. You don’t say she gets cross about turning it back on when you ask her to, or having to restart a conversation. It’s you getting wound up, isn’t it? I think you may have some buried issues here, if I’m honest.

Another point (sorry, but you did ask!): if she says her hearing aid has a ‘harsh’ tone, why not consider updating it? I suffered a perforated eardrum last autumn and was pretty deaf until it finally, thankfully, healed a few weeks ago. In the meantime, I did a lot of research into modern hearing aids, in case it turned out I needed one. Costs vary widely, but overall they are light years ahead of the technology available even 10 years ago. They’re small (almost invisibly so) and fully programmable. Jeremy Clarkson recently had two fitted and says they’re ‘brilliant’: he can adjust them via his iPhone, and not just the volume – tone, filtering out background noise, and other functions too.

Go online and have a look. Talk to your GP. See what you can afford. And S – whatever your wife ends up popping into her ear, check it’s switched on before you start to chat to her. That doesn’t cost anything.

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