It is not uncommon for a man to come into our practice because his wife claims he cannot hear a word she says. He thinks his hearing is fine, but when she calls to him from the next room he does not respond and often misunderstands her. This condition has been jokingly been called “Wife Deafness” in the hearing loss community—but all jokes aside, there is a reason why men have more trouble hearing women as they age.
This natural tendency for a man to miss a woman’s voice is (although we cannot speak for all men) not simply selective hearing. It is typically due to high frequency hearing loss. This means men naturally lose the ability to hear most women. There is a difference in the way that male and female brains process voices, and men’s voices tend to be lower while women have a greater natural melody with more complex ranges of frequency.
Most men begin losing hearing in the highest frequencies first, which is where women and children’s voices typically sit. High frequencies are also mostly consonants and the vowels remain in the lower frequencies of hearing. This is often why a man may be able to understand some things without even realizing he has hearing loss. This is also why misunderstandings happen—an individual with hearing loss may be piecing together the information. The word “fog” easily becomes “frog” because the vowel is fully understood but the consonants are not clear and the word becomes confused. The brain does its best to understand and fill the gaps and therefore hearing loss remains undiagnosed.
Here is the advice we have for couples out there that have problems understanding each other. Be diligent. There are a few signs you can look out for that may be able to determine if it’s just selective hearing or if he really has a health issue. Not being able to fully understand without at looking someone’s face—either behind the back or from another room—as well as playing the television so loudly that others complain and not being able to hear in noisy restaurants are all red flags of miscommunication. If these symptoms sound familiar we strongly suggest seeking help and coming in for an appointment as soon as possible. Remember, relationships are one of the number one factors affected by hearing loss—get help to keep channels of communication open!
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This post was written by jsolow