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Study shows seniors in denial about hearing loss

Contributed by | Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Your spouse says something you can’t hear, but it must be because he is mumbling.

You can’t hear the waiter read the specials, but it is obviously because the restaurant is too noisy.

You can’t follow the dialog on "Downton Abbey," but it’s only because of those darn English accents.

hearing loss denial
New studies show denial of 
hearing loss is a significant 
problem among seniors. 

Sound familiar? You may be in denial about your hearing loss. You are not alone; the results of a new research study show that the majority of seniors are in denial about hearing loss. But that denial has farther reaching implications than simply being unable to hear; when seniors deny they have a hearing loss, they also deny treatment and subsequently deny the detrimental negative effects of hearing loss as well. Unfortunately those negative effects can include depression, isolation, anger and cognitive decline.

The new research indicates that denial of hearing loss is a significant problem among seniors. In a recent study of 321 people who averaged between 60 and 69 years old, the good news is that over 50 percent admitted to having hearing loss. Now for the bad news: even though they admitted they had trouble hearing, only one out of six people actually used hearing aids.

The study also showed that seniors are three times more likely to have an elective or cosmetic surgery than they are to seek treatment for hearing loss, so it isn’t fear of doctors that keeps people away from treatment either. A hearing test is tied with a colonoscopy in terms of least likely health checks; and unfortunately both are dead last in the rankings. Among the reasons why seniors deny hearing loss and don’t seek treatment:

  • They think their hearing is not bad enough to need hearing aids.
  • They say they hear what they want to hear, and don’t care about the rest.
  • They claim that everyone around them is mumbling.
  • They say it’s normal to lose their hearing. It’s just a part of aging, so “no big deal.”
  • Unlike other health issues it isn’t life threatening, therefore it isn’t important.
  • They see hearing loss as a sign of weakness.
  • They are concerned about looking old.
  • They have come to depend on coping strategies to deal with their hearing loss.
  • They lack trust in the benefit of hearing aids.

Unfortunately the research shows that hearing tests aren’t even on most seniors’ to-do list. Not only did most of the seniors surveyed admit to not having their hearing checked annually, but 16 percent said they had never had a hearing test at all. And 14 percent reported having only one or two hearing tests in their lifetime.

The denial of hearing loss extends well beyond just not seeking treatment. When asked how they feel about interacting with others with hearing loss, the majority said they aren’t interested in interacting with a person who has trouble hearing and constantly asks them to repeat themselves. Yet they overwhelmingly denied the possibility that others could feel the same way about their behavior.

Why do so many seniors deny their hearing loss? The answer is complicated. To effectively treat hearing loss, a mix of psychological, physical and financial issues must first be overcome. The survey found the perception that hearing aids will somehow make them look old or weak is a significant factor in the denial of hearing loss and treatment, although most of the seniors said they do not judge others who use hearing aids in the same fashion. The thought of getting hearing aids to properly fit and function, not to mention paying for them, are other factors that can cause seniors to give up before they even start.

According to Dr. Eric Hagberg, an audiologist in Youngstown, Ohio, most people wait too long to seek treatment, if they seek treatment at all. “The average person has been having trouble hearing for seven to 10 years before they come in. They say it’s only been a few months, but we’ve found it’s years,” he said.

That delay comes at a tremendous cost. A recent study by the National Council on Aging of 2,304 people with hearing loss found that those who didn’t use hearing aids were 50 percent more likely to experience depression than people who did wear them. The study also found that hearing aid users had a higher rate of participation in social activities.

Seeking treatment for hearing loss has an importance far beyond simply being able to hear conversations or the TV. As David Myers, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Hope College in Michigan who recently presented the results of the National Council on Aging study at the American Psychological Association’s 123rd Annual Convention, said, “Getting people to use the latest in hearing aid technology can help them regain control of their life and achieve emotional stability and even better cognitive functioning.”

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