Step in a little closer, folks. We've got to talk about a problem that is becoming increasingly important to the pleasure of travel for many mature and most senior travelers-- and that's hearing loss.
Though I was aware generally of the problem, it was reader Helen Sage of Glendale who wrote and pointed out that while one of every 13 Americans has a hearing problem, once past the age of 65 it becomes one out of every three. And then she personified the problem of travel for the hard of hearing.
"I travel quite a bit, but on many tours, trying to cozy up to the tour director to hear what is being said is quite a problem," she wrote.
"In addition to there being so many seniors with the same hearing problem crowding around, too many guides mumble, don't speak clearly or make no effort to project their voices.
Teachers Failed Her
"I've also had to give up on Elderhostel trips because I can't fully take in what the teacher is telling us. I have a hearing aid. People talk glibly about hearing aids. They help, but they are not the complete solution.
"A good speaker on a microphone on a tour bus makes a trip for me so much more enjoyable. But guides outside the bus often present the problem. They should be more conscious of those who are hard of hearing. Anything you can do to bring this lack of attention to the people in charge would be greatly appreciated," she said.
I checked with a Malibu friend, Sue Hartenbaum. In addition to studying for her doctorate in education gerontology at the University of Southern California, she is also a practicing speech pathologist who specializes in the hard of hearing.
"True hearing loss is the most common medical problem of the mature population," Hartenbaum said, "and the problem is growing as we age in our noisy environment.
"The statistics and percentages of those over 65 with hearing loss range from 30% to as high as 70%, but I accept that of the American Speech and Hearing Assn. They put it at 43%.
"What's more, and what many tour guides and escorts may not know, is that of those hard of hearing, only 20% wear hearing aids," said Hartenbaum.
Hartenbaum has been aboard a number of local motor-coach tours for mature and senior travelers in this area, monitoring tour guides and general tour operations. She has developed these tips for those who are hard of hearing and for their travel companions, tour guides and escorts.
First, for those who are hard of hearing: Inform those around you, in addition to the guide and escort, that you have a hearing loss. Most, although not all, will try to make the necessary accommodations. If you try to cover up the problem, others may think you are shunning them or that you're not too bright. It's better that they understand that you have a hearing impediment.
If you have a hearing aid, wear it. Take along a spare if you can borrow or rent one from your hearing aid dealer or audiologist. Have your hearing aid adjusted properly. Take along spare batteries.
When out of the motor coach on a tour, move in as close as you can to the speaker. Get a full view of his or her face.
Tell or alert the speaker by a sign when you miss something that you think may have been important.
Don't expect to get every word as long as you get the main ideas and the most important information.
Make a friend who can share information with you for those times when you don't quite catch everything the guide or escort is saying.
Don't interrupt the speaker or talk while the speaker is talking. Wait until he or she is finished. You may discover that you have missed less than you think, because guides often repeat or stress important points. If you talk while the speaker is talking, you will just lose more of what he or she has to say.
Hartenbaum has this advice for tour guides and escorts, as well as for those who may be traveling with one who is hard of hearing:
It is important to note, especially on senior tours, that about 50% of the group will have some degree of hearing loss and only half of those will be wearing hearing aids.
Get the person's attention before talking, either by calling his name or other means.
Face the person with whom you are speaking. Try very hard not to turn your back on anyone.
When outdoors, always face the sun. Have a light source fall on your face whenever possible. Do not stand with a bright light or glare behind you.
Mind Your Diction
Speak carefully and pronounce the ends of your words. Do not speak more loudly or slowly, for that distorts the speech sounds.
If the person does not understand what you have said, do not repeat yourself, but instead rephrase what you have said.
Check in advance with the group about those who may be hard of hearing. Rather than being interrupted while talking, arrange for them to give you a hand signal if they feel they have missed something important. Ask often if everyone can hear you.
Make important tour announcements about wake up or departure times within the motor coach, using the amplifier system. Make sure everyone heard you by asking for raised hands.
When outside the motor coach, move in as close as possible to your listeners. Most will not hear 50% of what you say if they are more than six feet away. It may be necessary to split a large group into smaller sections.