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The Social and Psychological Stigma of Hearing Loss

  • Published: 2012-02-21 (Revised/Updated 2014-03-15) : Author: Amplifon -
  • Synopsis: Suffering hearing loss particularly when it is not dealt with properly can be as much a social problem as a psychological one.

Suffering hearing loss - particularly when it's not dealt with properly - can be as much a social problem as a psychological one.

Categorized by which part of the auditory system is damaged. There are three basic types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss.

Many effects of hearing loss and hearing problems may be obvious, but there's far more to the condition. It can have a dramatic social and psychological effect on people struggling to deal with a decline in hearing. This can be made even worse by the fact that many people are uncomfortable with admitting they are suffering hearing loss. Understanding these feelings and reactions can go a long way towards helping friends and family support somebody in this situation.

Of course, there's no single response or pattern of responses that is true for every person, we are all individuals. But there are some common themes. Some psychologists have even put forward theories that hearing loss sufferers go through the same phases as those who suffer other losses such as bereavement. Firstly this can mean refusing to accept the problem exists, then responding with anger, then being pre-occupied with "what ifs" and imagining life without the loss. Often depression follows before final acceptance.

The denial stage can be particularly troublesome with hearing loss as sufferers may decide not to get the treatment or support that they really need, such as a hearing aid. There are many reasons why people are uneasy about getting a hearing aid. People may simply not want to accept they have "a problem." Alternatively they may not want to be associated with a condition that is so often linked to aging. Sometimes people worry about a hearing aid looking ugly. Ironically, it's the effects of an unaided hearing loss which makes the problem obvious to others and much more so than wearing hearing aids.

Suffering hearing loss - particularly when it's not dealt with properly - can be as much a social problem as a psychological one. Helen Keller, the first deaf and blind American to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, once noted that being blind cuts you off from objects yet being deaf cuts you off from people. Having trouble hearing during conversations can be incredibly frustrating, particularly if the other person is unaware of the hearing loss and simply assumes the listener is being rude by not paying attention. This can cause a spiral effect, with hearing loss sufferers becoming withdrawn and taking part in fewer social activities. This can be worsened by the way that losing hearing can make it so much more difficult to cope with daily life. For example, when somebody realizes they can't hear pedestrians or cyclists coming up behind them, they have to spend more time looking over their shoulder, which means they are distracted from the pleasures of a good walk.

Communication problems can be a particularly difficult with friends and even more so with partners. What comes across first as a perceived change in personality can become a reality. If hearing loss sufferers feel they are being treated as if they've become more withdrawn or short-tempered, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For these reasons, strong emotional support and understanding by loved ones can be as much a part of the way a person copes with hearing loss as any hearing aid.

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