I am writing this blog for the family, friends, and co-workers of people with hearing loss. While working with my patients, I often hear stories about how the people in their lives react to their hearing loss or their decision to get hearing aids. These stories are filled with hurt and frustration. There is a lack of understanding in general of how hearing loss affects a person’s ability to communicate. There is a tendency to blame every communication failure on the hearing loss or the hearing aids when in reality communication is complicated and a variety of factors are at play.
It can take a person many years to gather the courage and motivation to take steps towards getting help for their hearing loss. They have invested significant time and money. They are counseled about the limitations of hearing devices. Sometimes family members are present during counseling appointments. This should be encouraged (in the time of COVID it is not always allowed in the office but a telehealth consultation would work). When a person then hears from a loved one, a friend, or co-worker “Don’t you have your hearing aids in?” or “Those hearing aids don’t work,” it can be extremely discouraging.
Hearing aids are just that…aids. They should be properly fit by an audiologist using best practices (real ear measurements) and they should be properly maintained. Hearing aids will help a person hear better but they do not cure hearing loss or restore hearing to normal levels. They also do not give a person “super hearing.” The sound entering the ear from the hearing aids must travel through a damaged auditory system to the brain where it is then interpreted. Environmental factors such as noise, distance from the speaker, and visual input can all affect a person’s ability to hear and understand. Hearing aids alone cannot overcome a bad communication environment.
Communication is a two-way street. Ask yourself what you can do to make it easier on your communication partner. Do not let them carry the entire burden. Here are a few suggestions:
• Don’t try to carry on a conversation from a different room.
• Turn down the TV or any other distracting noise (i.e., water faucet, vacuum).
• Face the person to whom you are speaking. Visual cues are important!
Hearing loss is not a personal failure. Shame only causes people to withdraw and further isolate. If you have a family member, friend, or co-worker with hearing loss, I would encourage you to listen to them about their experiences and seek to educate yourself about hearing loss. Be supportive, be an advocate, and then educate others.
For perspectives from people with hearing loss, check out these resources:
Living with Hearing Loss: A Hearing Loss Blog by Shari Eberts
Better Hearing Consumer by Gael Hannan