What to look for in loved ones who may be hiding a hearing loss, how to talk to them about it.
Prior to diagnosis, those with hearing loss may be a little embarrassed to admit that they are hard of hearing, could be in denial of their loss, or not want to even accept it all. And just like the six stages of grieving, an individual must also go through the six stages of hearing loss. These six stages are: denial, anger, awareness, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A person must, in a sense, go through all six stages before they are fully committed to accepting their hearing loss. However, there are also many other supportive tools that family and friends can provide to the individual to help them better cope with and accept their loss.
In order to get started, we must first have the client’s story. For married couples, there is often a huge sense of isolation between the two spouses due to a hearing loss. For older adults, there is often a stigma of growing “old.” These individuals may be afraid of being a burden to their family, feel a loss of career or self, or start to have a sense of change in their social status. The individual may also bluff in the hopes of getting away with what word was missed or having to pronounce the dreadful “what?”
Age-related changes in hearing (presbycusis) can also cause a combination of poor hearing sensitivity/detection, poor speech understanding, and difficulty understanding speech in noise. Age related changes in the central nervous system and cognition can affect the attention, intelligence, and memory of an individual with hearing loss as well. Hearing loss, especially when in the presence of tinnitus (i.e., ringing in the ears), can also make one more susceptible to depression characterized by specific symptoms.
The purpose of a hearing care professional is to help the client develop ownership of their hearing loss and acceptance of their hearing aids. In order to do so, we must first determine the client’s specific needs and/or difficulties. We must have an overall understanding of the client’s perspective, level of motivation, and communication needs for hearing aids. It is important for us as hearing care professionals to be honest with our client’s about realistic expectations for hearing aids and their benefits. It is equally important for the client to allow time for the adjustment period of hearing aids as well. The individual will need to wear the hearing aids every day for increasing lengths of time to become better accustomed to their hearing aids. The more you wear the hearing aids, the better the adaptation process will be. It is also important to not wear the hearing aids when around excessively loud sounds and wear hearing protection instead to preserve what good hearing remains. Physical and personal characteristics such as vision, manual dexterity, cognitive status, lifestyle, attitude, finances, and preferences must also be considered.
In conclusion, it is important for you as loved ones of the individual to guide them towards ownership of his/her hearing loss and its remediation in order to help them get the most out of what we as hearing care professionals have to offer. I hope this information has helped you know what to look for and how to help your loved ones with hearing loss. It takes teamwork in this profession; however, an added combination of family and friend support is often the best medicine.