People with hearing loss have to deal with adapting to life with hearing aids, and it can be even more difficult when negative stereotypes and stigmas get in the way. In fact, people wait an average of seven years before getting hearing aids after noticing their hearing loss. Being hard of hearing poses many challenges for those who experience it, and it can greatly affect their everyday lives. Perceptions of hearing loss is also associated with old age, but people of all ages, even children, have to deal with the loss of hearing.
Where did the stigma come from?
Historically, hearing loss has been seen as an ailment, and some even thought it was a disability because children who had hearing loss had trouble learning. According to the Journal of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses, people viewed the deaf and hard of hearing "with a mixture of fear, scorn, distaste, misunderstanding and pity." Many were under the misconception that those with hearing loss didn't have the capacity to be educated, and it wasn't until the mid-1700s that people began considering that youth with hearing loss could in fact learn.
What many people don't know is that hearing loss can affect anyone, and the issue can be very detrimental to a person's self esteem. Someone with hearing loss can become distant from family and friends because they have trouble comprehending conversations, and they may even be looked down upon by others.
Addressing the stigma
To overcome social stigma, you must first be an advocate for yourself. Don't be afraid to let others know about your hearing loss. Hiding the situation can make it worse because others may think you aren't paying attention to conversations. It might take some time before you address your situation as hearing loss, but when you decide to address the situation, don't be afraid to discuss it with others. Follow these tips to talk about your hearing loss with loved ones:
- Begin by informing them of the condition. Tell them how you feel, and what the most challenging aspect of hearing loss may be. This is your chance to be an open book.
- Ask them to come with you to an audiologist appointment or follow-up visit so that they can learn about hearing loss as well.
- Tell them what they can do to help the situation. For example, finding a quiet place in a restaurant will make it easier for you to hear versus a loud table in the middle of the establishment. Similarly, you might ask them to always look at you while speaking and to emphasize hand gestures and facial expressions.
Many people who have negative views of hearing loss may not understand that this doesn't mean you will be wearing bulky devices. Modern day hearing aids make it easier to hear with background noise, to hear in auditorium or lecture hall settings and to maintain your pre-hearing aids lifestyle to its fullest. Whether you enjoy going out to the theater or love hiking, hearing aids have settings and features that make this possible.
Today, hearing aids can go virtually unnoticed, as some are so small that they fit all the way into the ear canal. This in itself helps to decrease the negative connotation of the issue because people can go about their daily lives without others even noticing that they are wearing hearing aids. Additionally, settings and features like Bluetooth and telecoils help to make hearing aids a simple part of daily life.
Overcoming the stigma
As people are getting educated on the condition, more people are becoming accepting and conscious of hearing loss. There has always been resistance of hearing aids, especially for someone who is getting a hearing aid for the first time.
According to audiologist Dr. Douglas Chen, "the size of the social stigma is out of proportion compared to that of eyeglasses, canes, walkers and wheelchairs."
Thanks to modern technology, people who need hearing devices have more options available to them, which eliminates the stigma for users. Customizable hearing aids and digital settings make it a seamless transition, and instruments just continue to get more intelligent.
Making the leap to go to a healthy hearing professional can be scary, but it is a decision that will improve your quality of life. Do you have trouble talking with family members? Do you feel left out because you can't understand what others can? Don't wait any longer. Visiting an audiologist is the first step toward getting your hearing back.