Hearing loss is usually self diagnosable if the person is more self-aware. The chief symptom is the inability to understand speech or hear soft sounds. Some notice a loud, alarming “pop” just before their hearing disappears and few with sudden deafness may also notice one or more of these symptoms: a feeling of ear fullness, dizziness, and/or a ringing in their ears.
Here are some ways you can gain perspective by experiencing what hearing loss sounds like.
People with mild hearing loss have difficulty hearing soft consonant sounds, making words seem incomplete. Noisy environments make hearing more challenging.
For people with moderate hearing loss, hard and soft consonant sounds become inaudible and speech becomes difficult to understand – particularly with background noise.
For people with severe hearing loss, some loud sounds are audible, but communication without a hearing instrument is impossible.
Describing hearing loss
If you want to understand your own hearing loss or anyone else’s hearing, there are a number of questions you need to consider.
How severe is your hearing loss?
This is the simplest and most frequently used way of describing a hearing loss. Audiologists often use the categories ‘mild, moderate, severe, and profound’.
However, there is much more you need to know before you can understand your hearing fully, as it is not simply about hearing individual sounds and tones.
Is your hearing the same all the time?
Your hearing may be exactly the same every day and at all times during the day, or it may fluctuate during the day or from week to week. A fluctuating hearing loss can be quite bewildering if you don’t realize that for reasons outside your control you can hear better on some occasions (this is something other people may find hard to understand).
Do you have Tinnitus?
Tinnitus (noises you can hear that are not caused by sounds in the outside world) can make it much harder to hear with any given level of hearing loss. If your tinnitus changes from time to time it will mean you can sometimes hear better on some occasions, even though your hearing remains the same, because the sound of the tinnitus will block out what you are trying to listen to.
Since when is the hearing issue noted?
If your hearing loss began when you were a baby, you will experience your remaining hearing differently than if you began to lose your hearing much later in life. Your voice may be different, and your emotional relationship with your hearing may be different. If you have been accustomed to hearing all your life and then it changes, there are some difficult adjustments to make.
Don’t delay if you experience a sudden or very rapid loss of hearing. It’s considered a medical emergency and you should seek urgent care at the Accident & Emergency department of your nearest hospital where you should be treated by an ENT doctor.
Much more commonly, the change in hearing takes place over a long period of time, sometimes acquired over many, many years. Under the circumstances, you may find it difficult to know exactly when it started and it can take some time before you realize it is happening. Often, the people around you will notice it before you do for the obvious reason that if you don’t hear something, you usually don’t know you haven’t heard it.
Hearing Loss can adversely affect the mental health
TALKING ON THE PHONE POSITIVELY AFFECTS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
It’s no secret that talking on the phone with friends and family can be a great source of happiness – and even the most mundane, task-oriented calls give us a sense of connection and control over our lives.
Without this daily social connection, people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or speech impaired can be at risk for chronic sadness or depression. They may also experience feelings of irritability, poor self-image, and feelings of inadequacy.
Here are 3 ways relay services can help people live happier, more connected lives.
(1) Connection vs. Isolation
The effects of isolation on the mind are well documented. Relay services are a vital connection for anyone experiencing hearing loss or speech/visual impairment. Imagine if you had to wait until conditions were just right to take or make a call – or worse, had to wait until a friend or family member could assist you. Communication difficulties, if not addressed appropriately, can lead to social withdrawal and self-defeating thoughts. “They can’t understand me, so I might as well quit trying. I’m not really a part of society. What good am I?”
(2) Confidence vs. Anxiety
We all want to feel confident in our abilities and decisions, but struggling to communicate can be a real confidence killer. For example, older adults with hearing loss might feel as if they are to blame for misunderstandings. Many feel apologetic about repeatedly asking for help to understand what is being said. They lose confidence in their abilities, face anxiety in social situations, and worry about personal relationships. “I’m a nuisance. I should quit talking because it just frustrates other people. They must be sick of me.” This can in turn lead to physical symptoms such as tension, exhaustion, and weakened immune systems.
(3) Capable vs. Incompetent
Disability does not mean inability. But to many people, not being able to hear and discern message and meaning can result in feelings of shame, humiliation, and inadequacy. They worry about being seen as incompetent, or even stupid. The feeling of shame linked to hearing loss can be linked to misunderstanding and the resulting social embarrassment of giving the wrong response. People may think “How stupid I must look!” or “What will others think?”
Relay services – and the simple joy of talking on the phone again – can have a major impact on a person’s relationships with family and friends, their happiness, and mental health.
5 TIPS FOR TALKING TO LOVED ONES ABOUT HEARING LOSS
It’s never easy to admit when we have a problem, and that’s especially true when it comes to age-related hearing loss. For those affected, it’s common to experience a wide range of emotions including anger, grief, and denial.
- Choose the right place and time.
One of the worst things you can do is blurt out something insensitive in a moment of frustration. Instead, plan ahead and choose a quiet, comfortable location with plenty of privacy. Plan on setting aside at least a few hours for the first discussion – so you and your loved one can have plenty of time to talk without interruption.
- Be respectful and positive.
When the conversation begins, emphasize how much you care about your loved one. Explain calmly how you’ve noticed them showing signs of hearing loss. Try phrases such as, “I am concerned about how often you ask everyone to repeat themselves,” and “It would make ME feel better if you had your hearing checked.” To ensure the conversation goes well, they must feel supported – not attacked.
- Don’t assume they know.
This may seem hard to believe, but age-related hearing loss can be so gradual that your loved one might not notice they’ve had to turn the TV up louder to hear, or that they’re becoming fatigued from trying to follow conversations. A good conversation starter could be something you’ve noticed. For example, “I’ve noticed that you need the TV on very loud,” or “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been able to hear as well on the telephone lately.”
- Do your homework.
Do your homework before the conversation, so you can be prepared with helpful information for your loved ones. Learn more about age-related hearing loss and the emotions and challenges that come with it. Make a list of Audiologists in your area. Read up on other tips for having difficult conversations with loved ones. The more you can prepare yourself, the better your conversation will be.
- Offer to help with next steps.
Finally, make a plan for what happens AFTER your first conversation about hearing loss. If the time is right, suggest the next steps – such as making an appointment to see an audiologist. Remember your loved one might be nervous about seeking treatment. Assure them they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.