Why are people mumbling more these days?

by Carolyn Mandelker, Executive Director of Shambhala (and professional audiologist)


Do you experience any of the following?

  • That people seem to be mumbling more than they used to?
  • That some people’s voices are consistently harder for you to hear than other people’s ?
  • That you have a particularly difficult time hearing in noisy environments?
  • That you feel you hear better when you are wearing your glasses?
  • That your friends or family are adamant that you have difficulty hearing, but you feel you hear quite well?

After age 30, many people start to lose hearing sensitivity for high pitched sounds. At first, it doesn’t affect you too much, but as it worsens slowly over time, there may come a time—typically in your early to mid 60’s– when you start to experience the world in the way I’ve described above.

Many of us naturally start to use compensatory strategies way before we even realize we have a hearing problem — we move closer to the person who is speaking, watch their faces and lips more closely, or begin choosing quieter, brighter environments for conversations.

The most surprising fact about gradual hearing loss is that often, the person themselves is the last to realize that they have a hearing loss!

Is this an issue in Shambhala? As a trained audiologist I see the evidence in every gathering I attend.

For a start, 30% of all people over the age of 65 have significant hearing loss that interferes with ease of communication. (Many of the early students of Trungpa Rinpoche, who were in their early 20’s when they met Trungpa Rinpoche are now approaching (or over) 65 years of age and are noticing difficulty in this area.) In addition, there are many people who come to Shambhala with hearing loss that is unrelated to age.

Here is another surprising statistic: Research shows that on average, people wait 7 years from the time they first notice hearing difficulties before seeking help! This means that there are a lot of people out there who have trouble hearing, but don’t seek help.

The most common support is to wear personal hearing aids. However, many people are reluctant to do this, particularly if they feel they can “get by” without them.

Why would you consider hearing aids if you feel you can get by without them?

There are two good reasons:

1)    as an act of kindness to yourself.

The idea of “getting by” is a slippery slope. Over time, people tend to withdraw further and further from social situations because of hearing difficulties.

  • You may have so much trouble hearing at the Shambhala Centre or in restaurants, that you don’t go as often, and choose to stay home instead.
  • You may feel that you can’t ask people to repeat themselves, and then hesitate to contribute or contribute inappropriately to conversations because you couldn’t follow the thread of the conversation.
  • Hearing loss makes communication TIRING! Many people have told me that they have much more energy once they start using hearing aids because they don’t have to expend as much energy trying to figure out what people are saying.
  • Addressing your hearing needs will help keep you maximally engaged with the people and activities that are meaningful to you.

2) as a gesture of kindness to your communication partners.

Over time, your family and friends may become increasingly frustrated and inconvenienced by your hearing loss. They are often required to speak more loudly than is natural to them, to speak to you from close range, to use the TV at a louder volume than is comfortable to them, to avoid environments and activities that are difficult for you. If there is something you can do to help, why not try it? 

How do I try hearing aids? What if I don’t like them?

  • Tell your family doctor that you are experiencing difficulty hearing. They can refer you to the health care system for a hearing test (it can take some time to get an appointment, but it is free), or you can go directly to a private practice audiologist (this may cost about $50 but you can be seen quickly).
  • An audiologist will do a thorough assessment of your hearing, and explain the results. If you have lost some hearing, (s)he will explain how this affects you, and will also ask you questions about your lifestyle to determine how much benefit you might derive from hearing aids. 
  • You may decide to go ahead with a one-month trial period with hearing aids. After much conversation about your needs and preferences, you and the audiologist will choose (together) the most appropriate hearing aid(s) for your particular hearing loss, based on price, style, technology etc. Reputable audiology offices offer a one month trial with hearing aids, refundable at the end of the month if you are not satisfied.
  • 30% discount: I worked at the Hearing Institute Atlantic in Halifax for about two years (part time), while I was the Director of Practice and Education for Shambhala. I asked them if they would consider offering Shambhala members a discounted rate on hearing aids. They have generously offered us a 30% discount. With the cost of hearing aids falling in the $1,800 to $4,000 range per device, this is a considerable saving. (I won’t receive any kickback from Hearing Institute Atlantic—just the joy of knowing that people will hear more easily)
  • If you would like to follow up with Hearing Institute Atlantic, please call them at 482-2222 to book a hearing test, and mention that you are a Shambhala member referred by Carolyn Mandelker. There is also a good deal of information on their website at www.hearinginstitute.ca.

What can we do as a community? 

Teachers and leaders, please:

  • Recognize that most audiences at the Halifax Shambhala Centre and Dorje Denma Ling are likely to include at least some people who have hearing difficulties (whether they know it or not).
  • Recognize that people with hearing difficulties often choose to sit on chairs rather than cushions, because of other physical difficulties. Most shrine rooms locate their chairs at the back! This puts hard -of -hearing people in the worst possible location for hearing and seeing the speaker, who is all the way at the front of the room, unless the speaker is amplified!


  • Always use a microphone when teaching or making announcements in the Main Shrine Room and Snow Lion room in Halifax, and in the main shrine room at Dorje Denma Ling, even if you think you have a loud voice. (The Garuda room is small enough to go without an amplification system).
  • The biggest issue with microphone use is that it is not held or clipped close enough to the speaker’s mouth. The microphone should be 6 inches below the mouth!
  • Be aware that Q&A’s are difficult too, especially if the hard of hearing person is seated at the back, and the person asking the question is in front of them facing forward. Please insist that the microphone gets passed around for Q&A.
  • Consider placing some chairs on the sides of our meditation halls (rather than just in the back), so that some chairs can be situated closer to the speaker.

I hope this will help all of us engage more fully in hearing, contemplating and meditating, and will help us further our culture of kindness.

If you would like to ask questions, share your own experience, or engage this topic in any way, please join me on my blog: http://executivedirector.shambhalatimes.org

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