SENIOR POWER: Read my lips…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Thursday June 19, 2014 - 05:36:00 PM

Just across the pharmacy counter, inches away, a sales person is asking me for something. It’s likely “your address?” And I respond “February 19, 1926.” Sometimes vice versa. When one is merely “hard of hearing” (hearing impaired), one takes chances. And soon learns that asking her/him to speak slowly or to look right at you is usually a waste of time and energy! Ditto learning to lip-read late in life.  

For many deaf people, the main inadequacy of even the best or most costly hearing aids is the one-on-one. Lip-reading is a technical skill. A few tips for hearing impaired senior citizens would be nice though... I commended to a senior center director the idea of a free class or workshop on basic survival skills for the hearing-impaired. End of story. 

People with normal hearing generally process visual information from the moving mouth at a subconscious level. Lip-reading (also known as lipreading or speechreading) is a technique of understanding speech by visually interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue when normal sound is not available, relying also on information provided by the context, knowledge of the language, and any residual hearing.  

Are you old enough to recall the 1932 George Arliss motion picture, The Man Who Played God? Tagged “a modern drama from real life.” In the United Kingdom, it was released as The Silent Voice. The cast included Bette Davis. Even as a child, I recognized the improbability of a person suddenly discovering a “lip-reading talent” when deafened by an explosion.  

Whether how to or simply about, there aren’t a lot of new books and classes about lip reading. There’s a little gem titled The Listening Eye; A Simple Introduction to the Art of Lip-reading, by Dorothy G. Clegg, published in 1953 in London by England by Methuen & Co., Ltd. Sixty years or so ago the 72 fragile pages of the copy I recently borrowed had been sheltered into a cardboard binder by the holding library, today’s California State University, Stanislaus. It was apparently last borrowed 30 years ago. 

Clegg begins with “some pre-class help, introducing you to an interesting, fascinating, and helpful art, and perhaps tiding over the time when you are prevented, for one reason or another, from attending a class. …a word about the Government hearing aid – the Medresco. One of the biggest blessings issuing from the [British] National Health Scheme is the free issue of this aid together with a free supply of batteries and free maintenance of the aid itself. Say these sentences, one at a time, quite naturally (not a word at a time!) and do not merely LOOK at your mirrored lips. …you are looking only to see the lips meet and part… 

  1. What a pretty baby.
  2. Will you pass the marmalade, please?
  3. Has the baker been?
  4. Get some brown bread.”
The Medresco was the National Health Service's first hearing aid. 

Edward F. Walther’s Lipreading (c1982, Nelson-Hall) is an instruction manual “written to help teach the art of lip reading to persons who cannot attend lipreading classes… a self-help book. He mentions the problems of homophonous words, words that have the same lip movement but are spelled differently and have entirely different meanings, e.g. jade/shade, pail/mail. And the obstacle of some letters of the alphabet are pronounced without any lip movement (throat sounds unseen) e.g. eth, l, d, n, nt, nd involve a tongue movement to the palate or upper teeth.” 



While weeding my files recently, I came across something from 1981, when I “covered” a community college faculty member’s sabbatical. It was a transferrable, social science, “Women’s Studies” course that received neither publicity nor interest (5 women enrolled).  

For the obligatory exam, I created a fun question that went like this: “Suppose you’re chatting with someone who says, ‘My granddaughter wants the library to replace this book. She’s one of those crazy radicals, isn’t she? What’s wrong with it… you’d think she’d know better, wouldn’t you? You’re a college girl… Do you feel there’s anything wrong with it?’ Respond to her/him.” 

Old Ladies Thrive on High Blood Pressure, an excerpt from the book followed. Two hundred forty words about heart disease and high blood pressure by a physician: 

Statistics show that high blood pressure is less dangerous to elderly women than to men of the same age. Many old ladies have very high blood pressures and they live for years and feel much better than those who have low ones.  

Old ladies lead much gentler lives than old gentlemen. They do not usually have to travel to business. As a rule they smoke less and drink less and often eat considerably less. 

Of course, many women worry far more than men but by the time old age is reached most of their worries have grown up and got married. These women who worry in old age worry about small and less pressing problems than the things men concern themselves with. A man’s worries, like his responsibilities, tend to increase with age. It is rare to find a man with the valuable gift of detachment which enables him to carry responsibility without worry. 

Generally elderly women lead more leisurely and quieter lives than men of the same age. If they have had to go out to work in life they retire at a younger age than men. After retirement they are more able to fill their lives in a quiet and peaceful way in their own homes. All through life women are less restless and ambitious than men. If only men were given to such restful occupations as knitting and sewing, they too might thrive on high blood pressure.  

That was more than 33 years ago. The college no longer has Women’s Studies. 





"New State Program Enrolling 200,000 Medicare-MediCal Patients in L.A.," by Paul Kleyman (New America Media, June 13, 2014). 

"Obamacare wrinkle: California bill seeks to reduce state's seizure of Medi-Cal recipients' assets," by Tracy Seipel (Contra Costa Times, June 11, 2014). 

“AP-NORC (Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center) releases new analysis on Californians' experiences with long-term care" (Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], June 10, 2014). 

SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) predicts that 50% of people with HIV in the U.S. will be age 50+ by 2015, and by 2020, more than 70% of Americans with HIV are expected to be 50+. With that in mind, SAGE, the Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) and ACRIA (AIDS Community Research Initiative of America) have created a New Report on HIV & Aging, outlining 8 recommendations to address the needs of a growing demographic of older adults with HIV, many of whom are LGBT and people of color. The full report, Eight Policy Recommendations for Improving the Health & Wellness of Older Adults with HIV, can be found online.  

"Same-sex couples encounter more barriers when seeking senior housing, study finds," by Tara Bahrampour (Washington Post, Feb. 26, 2014). Gay, lesbian and bisexual couples seeking senior housing receive less favorable quotes on pricing, availability, and amenities than heterosexual couples, according to a report released in February by the Equal Rights Center in Washington.