Psychological Effects of Hearing Loss
Loss and Grief
Loss is an integral part of the human experience, from birth to death. Loss has profound consequences. Defined most simply, loss is a state of being without, or deprived of, something one has had. The most profound loss experienced is the loss of a significant or valued person.
One may also lose some aspect of the “self”, the overall mental image one has of one’s body and person. Loss of health, loss of positive self-attitudes, developmental losses associated with aging, all lead to changed, lowered perceptions of oneself. Loss of hearing is common as one ages. Since hearing deteriorates usually at a gradual rate, it may go undetected for a long time. The hard of hearing individual may then be mis-labelled as having become confused, contrary, uncooperative, hearing only when he/she wants to and so on.
Low grade depression frequently follows the realization of hearing loss. This may be further compounded, especially in seniors, by other losses experienced in their lives. It is very important to acknowledge decreased hearing as a real loss and then to grieve that loss. It is necessary to grieve any loss in order to come to terms with it and to surmount it. If you would like to be a volunteer friendly visitor to the hard of hearing, you can help those who you visit by discussing the effects this loss has had on their life, and validating that it has had the same effect on others, including possibly yourself.
Commonly, the hard of hearing person does not understand what has happened to him/her. Therefore, he/she does not know how to tell others to change their communication patterns so that he/she can understand what is being said. Nor does he/she know how to manage the situation in order to better understand. In such a situation, some simply withdraw, others bluff, some may develop certain ways to manage getting their basic needs met. Some of these may be useful to get their needs met, but be irritating or frustrating to others.
Families, who do not understand hearing loss and its effects, may believe that the hard of hearing person is not trying hard enough to listen, has given up, hears only when he wants to, and may become impatient and frustrated.
Another area of loss and disappointment may be the inability to hear the soft, high pitched, less articulate voice of a child or grandchild, and this results in being left out of what is communicated. The person who has become profoundly deafened knows what has happened but commonly has received no useful rehabilitation. Pencil and paper is usually used, after the frustration of trying to lipread without training.
Identifying Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can develop gradually. Initially, the hearing impaired adult may compensate for the loss without being aware of the change. He may not notice the hearing loss until his family/friends point out his difficulty.
If hearing loss is suspected an appointment should be made to see the family doctor to obtain a referral to an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat – ENT) doctor. If there is a hearing problem, the ENT doctor should suggest you see an audiologist. An audiologist is trained to test hearing, select hearing aids, provide counselling in their use and develop a program of aural rehabilitation.