Learning how to tell others about your hearing loss is a major part of the journey to personal acceptance. When we can relay our experience to others, we can take control of the story. No longer is hearing loss something that has happened to you, but rather it becomes a part of who you are and how you move in the world.
Who experiences hearing loss?
While more than 30 million Americans experience hearing loss, a large majority of those people begin to feel its effects later in life. Age remains the strongest predictor of deteriorating hearing health. One in three people over the age of 65 have hearing loss, which is a number that exponentially grows as one age.
The cause of age-related hearing loss
As our bodies age, we all experience changes in our abilities. For our hearing health, that means that the tiny cells of the inner ear begin to degenerate. They are non-regenerative cells, which means that they do not repair themselves or produce new ones as we lose them.
These cells are integral to the hearing process. They receive the noise of the world and turn it into electrical signals, or sound information, which is then sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. In the brain’s processing centers, we use this sound information to make meaning, as it becomes language, music, and environmental information.
As these inner ear cells die out, we can receive less of the noise of the world around us. We send less information to our brains or incomplete information, and we experience this as hearing loss.
The impact of hearing loss
Acknowledging hearing loss that comes later in life is a tremendously difficult step to take. You have built an identity as a healthy hearing person and the communication behaviors built over a lifetime have become second nature. Many people move through a period of grief when hearing loss appears. Some people attempt to ignore their hearing loss, which might be why the average person waits ten years before choosing to intervene with solutions like hearing aids.
We know that the emotional impact of hearing loss includes issues like depression and isolation. It’s easy to see why interrupting easy communication can feel isolating and why our relationships might suffer.
Using disclosure strategies
Learning to skillfully disclose your hearing loss is an art and a tool that, especially with treatment, will ultimately help you live in harmony with hearing loss. Like all new adventures, the first time you disclose your hearing loss will probably feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. With practice and over time, you’re likely to become less sensitive to the process and it may even become a new ‘second nature habit.
Best practices in hearing loss disclosure strategies
A recent study investigated how shifting your disclosure strategy impacts how you feel about the experience. Involving 337 participants at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, researchers distributed a survey to learn about disclosure strategies their group used. By evaluating responses, they broke these strategies into three groups: non-disclosers, basis disclosers, and multipurpose disclosers.
- Non-disclosers were, you guessed it, unlikely to disclose their hearing loss. In communication, they relied upon phrases like, ‘Please speak up, I can’t hear you.’ We can assume that these folks didn’t practice or prioritize learning about disclosure strategies. This proves to be an unsuccessful strategy, perhaps because the shift of responsibility was placed upon the conversation partner without explanation.
- Basis disclosures shared that they had hearing loss and perhaps even its cause, but few other supporting details.
- Multipurpose disclosures had the most successful method. They shared that they had trouble hearing and suggested ways that their conversation partner might help them hear better, with suggestions like, ‘please walk on my right side so that I can hear you better.’
Acquiring tools for living with hearing loss
Your hearing provider may provide support group resources where you can get in touch with other people living with hearing loss. You can also find support by searching for these groups in your local area. These are wonderful places to find communities and share strategies that can help you live a vibrant life, as a person with hearing loss.