by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A recent study confirmed what I have known for decades, namely, that hard of hearing people often strain so hard to catch the words in instructions that they don’t accurately retain the instructions themselves. So never blame a hard of hearing person for not following your instructions or directions unless you have written them down and given them to the hard of hearing person.
Dr. Arthur Wingfield at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts in a recent article in Current Directions in Psychological Science concluded that older adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss may expend so much cognitive energy on hearing accurately that their ability to remember spoken language suffers as a result.
This is also true of younger people, and those with more severe hearing losses too. I know this well. It has been my experience all my life. (I was born with a severe hearing loss.) I ask a person for directions, but in the process of straining to hear (and understand) them, I spend so much mental effort trying to get the directions straight, that the message itself doesn’t stick in my brain. I may be sure I understand the directions or instructions, but when I go to follow the instructions, I realize I don’t have a clue what I am really supposed to do. This is embarrassing to say the least–so much so that I don’t want to go back and ask for the directions all over again.
Therefore, whenever you are giving instructions or directions to hard of hearing people, you are far better off writing them down at the outset, rather than verbally telling them (likely over and over until you are both frustrated), because hard of hearing people very likely will have garbled your carefully explained directions before they even get out the door!