Don’t Ignore Your Loss of Hearing
Hearing loss often comes on gradually, making it hard to detect as it is happening. Once treated, people are often amazed at the sounds that they have been missing — birds chirping, water running in the faucet, the refrigerator humming — many of which they have not heard for years.
I ignored my hearing loss for the typical 7-10 years — hiding behind the stigma my father taught me to feel about hearing loss. As a child I watched him pull away from family and friends, and falter at work as he struggled to accept his hearing loss. So when the first audiologist I visited told me my hearing loss was too mild to treat, I used it as an excuse to retreat into denial.
Today, much more is known about the risks associated with hearing loss, including mild hearing loss, making it clear why we can no longer take the chance of ignoring it — even in its early days. Below I describe five critical reasons why you should not overlook your hearing loss. Please add to the list in the comments.
1. You may be pushing people away.
My father was embarrassed by his hearing loss, never discussing it and hiding his hearing aids behind long sideburns he grew for this purpose. He avoided social situations because he was worried he could not hear, and did not want to risk having someone discover his secret. He chose to isolate himself, which left him bitter and alone.
Avoiding people and refusing to let them in on your struggles pushes them away — even those that are closest to you. Don’t let this happen to you. Acknowledge that hearing loss can be exhausting given the extra mental effort that is required simply to hear, but commit to making your best effort. It will be worth it.
2. You are probably not hiding anything.
Keeping your hearing loss a secret is not doing you any favors. In many instances, people already know, or worse yet, they think you are stupid or not paying attention to them. While my father tried to hide his hearing loss from everyone, people could tell there was a problem, but because he was uncomfortable discussing it, we all pretended we didn’t notice, putting up walls that eventually grew too powerful to scale.
It was difficult at first, but once I accepted my hearing loss and began telling people about it, I felt such relief. The pressure to hear everything perfectly all of the time was gone and I felt empowered to ask for the assistance I needed. Most people are willing to accommodate you if you explain the situation.
3. Higher risk for dementia and other health problems.
It feels like every day a new study is revealed that links untreated hearing loss to a higher risk of mental decline. You can find some of them here, here and here. It is terrifying that hearing loss is linked to such an unwanted condition, but the good news is that in most cases, treating the hearing loss had an important mediating effect. This is probably because people who acknowledge and treat their hearing loss have better luck communicating with others, likely lowering their isolation and feelings of depression.
Hearing loss is also associated with higher incidences of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and falls. While causality is unclear, the links are not, making your hearing loss an important part of your overall health that cannot be dismissed.
4. You have options to help you communicate better.
Technology for people with hearing loss is advancing rapidly. Not only are hearing aidsgetting more sophisticated, but other types of assistive listening devices are more prevalent. You can find caption readers at the movies, and increasingly, T-coil technology in theaters, public spaces and houses of worship. Many museums and cultural institutions also offer accessibility options for people with hearing loss.
Speech-to-text apps are becoming more commonplace, with Google recently announcing a new and improved version for Android phones. Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) also exist. One example, Bose Hearphones, has received positive reviews from several of my hearing loss friends. With the launch of over-the-counter hearing aids in the next year or so, even more options will be available and at a wider range of price points. This is exciting news for those of us who want to hear our best.
5. Your hearing loss impacts the people that you love too.
Hearing loss is not only frustrating for the people who have it, but for their family and close friends too, especially if the person with hearing loss is unwilling to admit they have a problem. Even when I am wearing my hearing aids, my family must make a point of facing me when they talk to me and speaking at a reasonable pace, otherwise I won’t understand them. Without my hearing devices, conversation is even more challenging.
I appreciate the efforts my family makes on my behalf and I believe I owe them the same consideration. Taking control of your hearing loss is an important way to show those that you love how much you value your relationships with them. When we work together, we can make communication easier and more engaging for all of us.