Whether young or old, hearing loss can bring significant life changes to anyone. It can come at us in a number of different ways, from traumatic injury to disease, or as part of the aging process. Hearing loss may be gradual, and people are often reluctant to seek help. Hearing health care providers report that, typically, a person waits seven years after noticing a hearing loss before seeking treatment for it. If the ailment goes untreated, quality of life decreases substantially, and the brain can undergo structural changes that can lead to more serious issues such as dementia, and Alzheimer’s. While losing our hearing can present difficulties and serious challenges, we can strive to manage them with care and assistance.
How Hearing Loss Can Affect Us
The most obvious effect on our lives from hearing loss is in the physical realm, and in social interaction. It will be difficult to enjoy things we had previously, like listening to music or talking with our family members on the phone. We may dislike having to ask people to repeat themselves in a conversation and we may miss out on important elements, causing confusion. Other interpersonal events may cause disputes, like a conflict over the volume of the car radio if we are unable to hear it at the usual volume.
Not being able to communicate well or participate in social events may lead to our isolating ourselves from others. We may become anxious and even upset with others when they invite us to socialize. We may develop a chronic fear of being outside or being around other people (a social phobia). For those already suffering from issues like agoraphobia or dementia, the hearing loss can worsen the effects of anxiety, leading to panic attacks.
If we become hard of hearing, we may be surprised at how hearing plays a role in the things we take for granted. We may find ourselves in danger while crossing the street because we can’t hear the oncoming traffic. We may not hear our supervisors calling a team meeting. We may place ourselves in danger or suffer from a loss of performance at work or play.
Living with Hearing Loss
As fiercely independent as we wish to be, it is critical to invite others to “help us help ourselves” if we’re managing a hearing loss. Don’t be afraid to practice acts of self-advocacy such as:
- Ask others to speak slowly and clearly when communicating. It’s okay to remind people of the hearing loss, and the need for them to face you when speaking so you have access to speech reading and other visual cues. When possible, move conversations to brightly-lit areas.
- Remove distractions when communicating with someone else, like turning down (or turning off) the television, music or streaming video.
- Practice “repeating back” to the person you’re speaking with. Repeat what you heard them say and ask them to verify if that’s correct.
Living with hearing loss can be stressful. Due to the extraordinary cognitive demand placed on our brains when trying to listen through hearing loss, we can become fatigued by routine conversation. Stress levels that skyrocket in response only serve to compound the other mental difficulties that can arise from the condition. We can take some control over the situation, however. We should be upfront with co-workers, family and friends about our hearing loss, and enlist their support in dealing with it. They may be eager to help in any way they can, so we must let them know what assistance we find helpful. We should adjust our lifestyle to accommodate our hearing loss, and we should put self-care foremost in our minds. Pledge to eat healthy, get exercise and try to enjoy life.
Devices Can Make Life Easier with Hearing Loss
There is a variety of adaptive equipment available to people with hearing loss. Home alert systems, TV listening systems and flashing fire alarms are just the beginning. In terms of phone communications, amplified and captioned telephone equipment are easy to acquire through state-sponsored programs. Floridians with hearing loss are eligible to receive free specialized phone equipment from Florida Telecommunications Relay Inc. (FTRI), a nonprofit organization established in 1991 expressly for this purpose. FTRI offers a wide array of amplified phones to choose from, including models that will amplify Bluetooth cell phone calls, no landline required. Visit the FTRI website to learn more.