Living Well With Hearing Loss
The psychological impact of hearing loss must be recognized
Addressing the psychological aspects of hearing loss should be a part of every hearing health prescription. Your doctor or audiologist may recommend a hearing aid, but that is just the beginning. Though often considered a "normal" part of aging, hearing loss does not mean it is easy to accept or endure — the psychological impacts are also critical to address.
To live well with hearing loss, a multi-faceted approach is needed, including the right mindset, a full range of technology tools, and non-technical communication game changers like self-advocacy and speechreading, among others.
One Piece of the Puzzle
"Many people expect a hearing aid to cure hearing loss, just like eyeglasses for vision problems. But, unfortunately, that is not the case," explains Kevin Liebe, audiologist and President of Hearing Health & Technology Matters.
"I needed to acknowledge these emotions to develop the practical skills to live better with hearing loss."
Hearing aids make speech easier to understand, particularly in quiet environments, but they are not a silver bullet, especially in noisy surroundings. Other strategies and technologies are needed to make communication more seamless, including ones that help people cope with the psychological result of hearing loss.
"I've had hearing loss my entire adult life, but after joining the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and learning best practices from other people with hearing loss, I am living better with it," says Holly Cohen, a hearing health advocate who lives in New York City.
Cohen is the co-executive producer of the award-winning documentary "We Hear You," which highlights some of the daily challenges people with hearing loss face.
"Hearing loss makes socializing difficult," Cohen says, "I often felt frustrated or exhausted from the effort trying to hear conversations. I needed to acknowledge these emotions to develop the practical skills to live better with hearing loss."
Cohen is not alone in her emotional reaction to hearing loss. When Richard Pocker, Mary Grace Whalen, and Robin Chisholm-Seymour started a Facebook group called Hearing Loss: The Emotional Side, they were overwhelmed with interest.
Within a month, they had almost 1000 members. They struck a nerve, partly because there are few outlets where people with hearing loss can share their emotions of loss, anger, frustration, and sadness, which are vital to acknowledge and address.
Triad of Skills Needed to Live Well with Hearing Loss
Most people enter their hearing loss lives unprepared. They don't know what to expect and may not know other people with hearing loss who can "show them the ropes."
Audiologists can provide some perspective, but much of the course of the treatment revolves around assessment and hearing aid fitting. As a result, little time is left for emotional counseling and a review of practical real-life suggestions for improving communication.
What's missing is the big picture of hearing loss — the real-life illustration of how hearing loss, its emotions, and its barriers affect every corner of your life. In "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," co-author Gael Hannan and I provide this needed context and share our three-legged stool of skills required to live well with hearing loss: positive attitude change, full range of technology tools, and behavioral changes that can improve any listening situation.
Internal Attitudes On Hearing Loss Shape Progress
"Many people have mixed feelings about their hearing loss," explains Abram Bailey, audiologist and CEO of HearingTracker, a leading online hearing aid review site. "Hearing loss is often an unwelcome and unwanted life disruption. However, it's important to take time to acknowledge its impact."
People with hearing loss must learn to restructure difficult listening situations confidently.
People often battle stigma, anger, and frustration, but reframing these unproductive attitudes into positive and actionable statements speeds the adjustment. For example, many people with hearing loss think, "I want to hear better, the way I used to." Shifting this attitude to "I want to communicate better" (and it takes more than hearing aids to do this) is essential to taking charge of our communication.
When people with hearing loss can look at their hearing loss in a new light, they find that other strategies (including their devices) seem to work better too. Indeed, using a wide range of technology tools aids provides communication flexibility.
On Hearing Aids
Hearing aids are the primary building block of our technology tools, but they are not always enough, particularly in difficult listening situations. "The good news," Bailey explains, "is that technology is advancing rapidly." This includes advances in traditional hearing aid technology but also in Hearables.
Apple AirPods Pro, for instance, can augment hearing in some situations. In addition, soon-to-be-launched, over-the-counter hearing aids geared to people with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss will expand the range of products that provide hearing help.
Further, Liebe recommends speech-to-text technologies, including smartphone apps like Live Transcribe or Otter.ai, and using the automatic captioning feature on Zoom calls.
People often battle stigma, anger, and frustration, but reframing these unproductive attitudes speeds the adjustment.
"Anything that can turn the spoken word into written form helps to plug the communication gaps created by hearing loss, especially in a world of face masks," says Liebe.
Communication game changers can help transform conversations, a crucial opportunity for people to learn. For example, they do speechreading without realizing it, but others have to be learned. Hence, even small changes in communicative behaviors can significantly improve the quality of conversations.
"I was speechreading — sometimes called lipreading — for years before I knew I was doing it," says Cohen. "That made communicating with face masks difficult—hiding crucial visual cues."
Communication best practices like first getting the person's attention and talking face-to-face for better speechreading are critical—and so are self-advocacy skills. Likewise, people with hearing loss must learn to restructure difficult listening situations confidently.
Hear & Beyond's HEAR tool explains how to assess and adjust any situation for communication success. Frequently swapping the seating around or moving to a different location can make all the difference too.
Living Skillfully with Hearing Loss is Possible
If you are struggling, you may be, unintentionally or not, ignoring the psychological aspects of hearing loss, which can hinder you from moving forward.
Thankfully, taking a three-pronged approach can help. First, with a proper attitude, a full range of technology tools, and a proactive approach to each communication context, people with hearing loss can stay engaged and connected with the people and activities they love.