Why you should consider joining a hearing loss support group
Attendees say they provide a safe space to share experiences and foster new friendships
As someone with progressive, bilateral hearing loss, Teri Breier of Los Angeles, Calif., knows what it’s like to feel isolated.
“Growing up, I didn’t know anyone else my age who wore hearing aids and I spent decades hiding the fact I had a disability,” Breier admits.
In 2016, Breier attended her first Hearing Loss of America Association (HLAA) chapter meeting in Los Angeles and was pleasantly surprised to meet many people with hearing loss who ranged in age from 20 to 70+.
“It’s been so gratifying to “meet my tribe” of people that understand the struggles I experience communicating with others every day,” she says.
As Breier knows, navigating hearing loss can be challenging and the shared experience of meeting others with like experiences in a support group can be invaluable.
'I'm not alone!'
HLAA has created a nationwide network of support groups for people with hearing loss and is one of several organizations, including the Association of Late Deafened Adults, to offer support groups across the country.
“We know that when people connect with others who share the same issues and challenges, it can be very empowering,” says Barbara Kelley, HLAA’s Executive Director. “One of the most common things we hear when people attend an HLAA event for the first time, is ‘I’m not alone!’ Hearing loss can be isolating, so support and connection are often what inspires people to thrive.”
After joining the HLAA Los Angeles chapter, Breier stopped hiding her hearing loss, took on leadership roles within the group, and became a more vocal self-advocate. Like many people who start by attending a support group, Breier became involved in some of HLAA’s other events and fundraisers.
“I’ve learned so much through HLAA about assistive technology and available resources, which have helped me to continue my education and even land a rewarding new remote job with the national HLAA organization,” Breier says.
The focus is on helping each other–not complaining
Kelley says one common misconception about support groups is that they serve as venues for people to complain or feel sorry for themselves.
“This couldn’t be further from reality at any HLAA event,” she says. “We’re a diverse community represented by people of all ages who are actively engaged in helping others with hearing loss find solutions to common challenges.”
For many people, such as Breier, a support group is often the first time a person with hearing loss has met others who can relate to their daily challenges.
“It can be hard to make sense of a hearing world when you have limited hearing abilities,” Breier says. “In a support group, you can relax, take advantage of technology like live captioning, and socialize in an accepting, non-judgmental environment.”
Finding a support group
Even the most well-meaning family and friends often don’t fully understand the challenges of what it’s like to live with a hearing impairment. That’s where support groups help by offering a place to talk candidly with others and share information.
In addition to HLAA, there are support services available across the country where people with hearing loss can connect with others and get peer-to-peer support. The SayWhatClub offers six e-mail list serves and two private Facebook groups. Since they’re an international group, there’s almost always a member online to provide support or answer questions. The AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing also offers support groups throughout the U.S.
In Santa Rosa, Calif., Debbie Ezersky, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program Coordinator in the Disability Services department at Santa Rosa Junior College, has been overseeing a hearing loss support group for the past 15 years.
“It started out as a therapeutic group and has become more educational with our monthly classes featuring a wide array of speakers including an audiologist who answers questions from the group and a presentation on the latest advancements in cochlear implants and hearing aids,” Ezersky says.
Friends and family members are invited to attend the support group which is offered as a non-credit free class that meets over Zoom using auto captioning. Since the group is offered online, anyone in California can attend.
“I remember when the spouse of one of our members attended and I asked about the silver lining of having a loved one with hearing loss,” Ezersky says. “They told us how their communication had dramatically improved because their spouse now has their full attention and concentration during a conversation.”
“We also discuss coping strategies and how people can advocate for themselves,” Ezersky says. “It’s a warm and supportive group and our members look forward to our monthly meetings.”