The Secret Interpreters: Hidden in plain sight

           By Alaya Chadwick M.S.W., M.Div.


  • Did you know that on average 50% of folks 60 yrs and older have a “secret” interpreter who helps them navigate the world?  
  • Hearing loss is increasingly common as we get older.
  • On average it takes 7 to 10 years before hearing loss is acknowledged and as a result a secret solution develops along the way.

Often next to the one experiencing hearing loss is often the “interpreter”.  This is the person who speaks into “the good ear” and offers a whispered abbreviated commentary of what is occurring in the conversation.  The interpreter is elected often unconsciously and offers their support as an act of loving kindness.

To be the “interpreter” requires effort of focus and attention so as to listen and then repeat the essence while the conversation is still unfolding.  It is not an easy skill to master.  As the one experiencing hearing loss is mastering lip reading, so too the interpreter is gradually mastering the art of including their precious friend or partner in the conversations around them.  

The signal that an interpreter is needed or is being developed is the short phrase: “What did they say?”  

I can still remember those many early moments when my friend Anne learned how much it helped me when she stood on my left (“my good side”) and when she would provide a succinct running & whispered translation of what was being said.  Gradually I only would go out when she or my husband was available for this role. 

Even with my high-tech hearing aids or “ear buddies”, in a high density sound context (i.e. large party, group meetings & social events, restaurants with lots of background noise …) I still lean into my dear “interpreters”.  

To be bold enough to acknowledge the significance of the need for an interpreter is no small choice.  There is a quality of dependence. There is a vulnerability. There is a realization that without that added support, I may be mis-understood or may mis-understand, either of which is tough.  I still remember over-hearing someone say (about me to another) “Wow she has gotten slower mentally.”  No, the truth was I could not hear.

As a (W)hole Life Coach one of my missions is to educate and elevate all who are involved in “Hearing Hearts & Hardware” experience.

I encourage you to read the article listing the TIPS for those who love those with hearing challenges.   Finally, remember there will always be folks around you struggling to hear.  Please help us out.