My first hearing test was scary. I was only 26, in graduate school and afraid what the results would be. I was not optimistic. Adult-onset hearing loss ran in my family – my father and grandmother both had it. I had hoped it would skip a generation, but no such luck.
My family did not handle hearing loss very well, particularly my father. He went out of his way to hide it by isolating himself from friends, family and co-workers. I remember him laughing at jokes he hadn’t heard and being embarrassed whenever he misheard a question that was asked of him. His behavior taught me that hearing loss was shameful, and something never to discuss. An unmentionable.
The results of my first test showed mild hearing loss. Hearing aids were not yet needed, but I was told to come back when I noticed any change. This gave me a great excuse to hide and deny, which I did quite well. A few years later, I had my hearing tested again. This time the results were worse and hearing aids were recommended. I was devastated. Would my life now revolve around hiding this secret from the world?
For many years it did. I would wear my hearing aids at work, but rip them out as soon as possible when heading home. I never discussed them with anyone but my very closest friends.
But once I had children I realized something had to change. Since my hearing loss was genetic, I worried that my children may also experience hearing loss in early adulthood. I didn’t want to pass on the cycle of shame to them. I needed to accept my hearing loss. So I did.
I became a hearing health advocate, and currently sit on the national board of Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I also started an online community for people with hearing loss and tinnitus where I share the ups and downs of living with hearing loss, including tips for living your best life despite hearing loss. Come visit me at LivingWithHearingLoss.com.
How can you help?
Hearing loss can be traumatic, no matter the age or circumstances of its onset. People with hearing loss rely on audiologists and other hearing aid professionals to guide us along the right path, particularly in the difficult early years where everything is new and unexpected. Here are five ways you can help your hearing loss patients enjoy successful hearing outcomes.
- Understand our needs. Hearing loss presents different problems for different people. Some patients have trouble hearing high pitches, others low pitches. Ask your patients where they face their biggest hearing challenges so you can target your solutions to the most important aspects of their life. This will vary for each person. Don’t assume a one-size fits all solution.
- Set reasonable expectations. A first time hearing aid wearer may expect to put on a pair of hearing aids and hear perfectly, thinking hearing aids work like glasses do for many vision problems. This is not the case. Explain the difference to your patients and lay out a plan for fine-tuning the settings so they can prepare for the hard work that is ahead.
- Be hearing loss friendly. Remember your patients are there because they have trouble hearing. Be sure to use best practice communication skills when interacting with them. Speak clearly and at a normal rate. Always face them when speaking and keep your mouth uncovered so they can lipread. Consider investing in a portable hearing loop or pocket-talker device to aid in communication.
- Suggest hearing assistive technology. Hearing aids are often only part of the solution for people with hearing loss. New devices are frequently coming on the market to help people watch TV, enjoy dining out or attend the theater. Stay current on innovations to better integrate these items into your patient’s hearing loss tool kit.
- Recommend hearing loss support groups. Get involved in your local community’s HLAA chapter (or similar) and provide information on membership and meeting schedules to your patients. A strong hearing loss community for your patient helps support better hearing. And referrals too.