Hearing loss is one of the leading chronic health conditions in the United States, and yet, there still seems to be some old-fashioned stigmas remaining. As our general population continues to age, as will that of the global community, it’s up to us to counteract these expired stereotypes.
In fact, disclosing your hearing loss can help in a variety of factors, including improving your daily communications as well as spreading effective tools for people who encounter hearing loss in the future.
How Age Impacts Hearing
Older adults make up an enormous chunk of the American population. Today, almost 17 percent of us are over 65. By 2040, it’s estimated that 22 percent of the United States will be over 65 years of age. And when advances in the healthcare field and the average life expectancy are taken into account, 65 years old is actually on the very young side of what we might consider ‘old age.’
And yet, hearing loss as a result of aging can begin even earlier in a lifespan. Some recent studies are calling for earlier increased screening of hearing health, even for people in their early 50s.
By the time we reach the age of 65, one-third of our peers will be diagnosed with troubled hearing. This is because age itself contributes to our decline in hearing health, wearing away at the tiny, sensitive cells of the inner ear. Over time, the number of healthy cells we have diminishes, which is important because it is these cells we rely on to pick up the noise around us and transform it into sound information that is processed by the brain.
When the number of inner ear cells decreases, we are unable to collect the full spectrum of sound around us. We send less sound information to the brain. The experience of this is hearing loss.
The Emotional Impacts Of Hearing Loss
The earliest signs of hearing loss as related to aging is trouble with speech clarity, or understanding what people are saying. This can have negative effects on emotional and mental health, as connection is a fundamental drive for most humans. As hearing loss progresses, even every day communication becomes fraught and challenging.
For some people, the arrival of age-related hearing loss can cause anxiety to the degree that they choose not to even acknowledge its role in their lives. The average person waits about a decade before confronting and intervening in hearing loss. Even so, only about a third of the people who could benefit from hearing aids have ever actually worn them.
How Disclosing Hearing Loss Can Help
Choosing to both acknowledge your hearing loss and disclose it to other people can be a liberating step in learning to live with the condition. To begin, it puts you in control of the narrative. When you frame hearing loss as a neutral fact about you, rather than something you are trying to conceal, it can hurry along your own relationship to your new reality.
A 2016 study published in Ear and Hearing found that people who disclosed their hearing loss were more likely to experience positive social feedback. Those they interacted with were more likely to offer helpful accommodations. In fact, the results of the study were so clearly in favor of being upfront about hearing loss with others that the researchers in charge recommended increasing the effort to provide information on forming disclosure strategies to all patients with hearing loss.
Choose A Disclosure Strategy For Yourself
Of course, everyone faces different situational factors that impact whether discoling hearing loss will benefit them, and if so, what their strategy might be. However, the 2016 study did indicate that over time, revealing one’s hearing loss became exponentially easier. With that in mind, it can be helpful to choose a simple sentence that you feel is within your comfort zone and practice using it in conversation, perhaps first with close friends and family (or complete strangers if that feels less vulnerable to you!).
I have hearing loss and so I’m having difficulty understanding you.
I’m having trouble hearing you, can you speak a bit more slowly?
My hearing isn’t ideal, can we move to that quieter corner so I can hear you better?
While disclosing hearing loss itself has proven to be effective, an even more powerful statement is one that also includes a suggestion for improved clarity, like slowing speech, rephrasing, or finding a quieter setting for conversation.