Is Hearing Loss Harder For Men?

I have a hearing loss, as did my father, and believe me, it is not fun; but it seemed to have been a lot harder for him than it is for me (spoiler alert – I am a woman). He hid it as best as he could, smiling and nodding his way through conversations he was only pretending to hear. He never asked for help to hear better, that I can remember, and could often be found sitting alone at social gatherings. I always thought he was shy, but now I know it was the hearing loss. He must have been exhausted and had given up on interacting with others.

hearing-problem

Living with shame took its toll and over time he withdrew from work, from relationships and his health deteriorated. It is a sad story, and a scary one for me, given my own hearing loss and the possibility that I have passed it along genetically to my children.

Part of the trouble for him may have been the times. My father grew up when men were not encouraged to show emotions. Physical weakness was mocked and health problems were hidden behind closed doors, or in the case of my father, behind his sideburns grown long for that purpose. He was a product of his generation, which certainly made things harder. The hearing aid technology was also not as advanced, so perhaps he grew frustrated after several attempts with hearing aids that did not solve his problems.

Some of the difficulty was likely the hearing loss itself. Hearing loss is an invisible disability and is widely misunderstood. People often think of hearing loss much like being nearsighted. They assume that hearing aids restore your hearing to normal, just like wearing glasses allows you to see just as well as anyone else. This is not the case.

Hearing aids are helpful in amplifying sounds, but this just makes things louder, not necessarily crisper or clearer. Most people with hearing loss can hear that someone is talking to them, they just can’t understand what words are being said. The clarity is not there.

Hearing aids also have a tough time differentiating among sounds so that the background noise (i.e., the hum of the refrigerator or the air conditioner) is amplified in addition to the more important sounds of the conversation. This can actually make it harder to hear in certain situations.

But a large part of the issue may have been the fact that he was a man. Recent research conducted at Harvard University and Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston showed that men have a harder time explaining their hearing loss to others, and provide fewer actionable suggestions about how to better communicate with them.

While a woman might say, “My hearing is worse on the right side, please sit to my left,” a man might offer only “I have hearing issues, so please speak up.” The more specific instructions provided by the woman set up a better communication situation and one that is more likely to be successful for both of the people involved.

Now I am a parent — of a daughter and a son. Given the genetic nature of my hearing loss, I fear I may have passed it onto them. Since it is adult-onset, we won’t know for another 15 years or so. In the meantime, I work hard to model appropriate behavior, just in case.

I became a hearing health advocate and serve on two Boards of leading hearing organizations: Hearing Loss Association Of America and Hearing Health Foundation. I write this blog and actively advocate for myself within the family group. I refuse to hide my hearing loss, I discuss it openly and give specific suggestions to others on how they can help me to hear better.

I do this all for myself, but also to model the behavior for my children, just in case. I want both my daughter and my son to be skilled at asking for the help they need, and to not feel shame should they have a problem hearing.

My family has gotten quite skilled at following my suggestions—facing me when they speak and remembering not to cover their mouth with their hands so I can see their lips. Whenever I see my 10-year-old son size up a seating arrangement and point me to the most advantageous seat, I feel relief. I hope he will not have to experience hearing loss, but if he does, he will be a man different from my father. He will not be ashamed, he will know how to ask for help, and he won’t let hearing loss overtake his life.

Here are some things you can do to support the men in your life that have a hearing loss.

  • Encourage him to accept his hearing loss and treat it. Sometimes it is hard to accept—it took me 10 years to come out of my hearing loss closet—but the quicker he does, the sooner he can reengage with life. You need to accept it too, and not criticize him for it. Hearing loss cannot be seen as shameful.
  • Experiment in different settings to determine the best ways for him to hear. Try various seating arrangements at the dinner table, or try out a few different settings on his hearing aid when out to dinner to see which one works best. The more he knows about his hearing loss and how to work around it, the better equipped he will be to handle different social situations. Practice builds confidence.
  • Understand that hearing is hard work for him. While hearing comes second nature to most people, when you have a hearing loss it requires a significant amount of concentration. Encourage him to take breaks in high communication settings so that he can maintain focus and stamina. Be compassionate if he needs quiet every now and then.
  • Support his self-advocacy. Ask for quiet tables in restaurants and request that the music is turned down. Arrive early to social events to identify the best seating and take it. Learn about hearing assistance devices such as hearing loops and caption readers for plays and movies and use them.
  • Discuss his hearing loss in everyday conversation. The more his hearing issues are out in the open, the better other people can accommodate his needs. Keeping it a secret makes it shameful, which can lead to depression and withdrawal.
  • Encourage him to talk to others with hearing loss. This can be difficult if you don’t know people with hearing loss, but your doctor or audiologist may have some ideas. He should also look online for local chapters of hearing loss support organizations like Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). Through HLAA I have met many wonderful new friends, all of whom have hearing loss.
  • Show that you value your hearing by protecting it. Teach boys (and girls too!) about the importance of hearing protection. Wear earplugs at sporting events and at concerts and keep extra pairs handy to share with others. Demand that music be consumed only at safe listening levels.

Hearing loss can make life more challenging — at work, at play and everywhere in between. But when armed with an open and accepting attitude, a supportive group of friends and family, and the willingness to experiment a little, it does not need to overtake your life. If you or someone you love has hearing loss, please encourage them to seek out the help they need. Many resources are now available so that they don’t need to take on this issue alone.

Readers, do you think hearing loss is harder for men?

This post first appeared on The Good Men Project

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17 thoughts on “Is Hearing Loss Harder For Men?

  1. You are right, it is harder for men. My father-in-law had hearing issues as I do so I could relate. Unfortunately, no one stood up and said you need hearing aids until I got mine. He had only one and it was soooo old that it did not work properly. I pushed for him to get it but when you have shaking hands as he did it was a bit late. He lost so much in not being able to hear the sermons and to enjoy conversations. I always felt bad as I know how frustrating it is.

    Let’s promote this…our men need encouragement. It is sad to know that men are not being as helped as we women are. And men you too need to take advantage of the resources that are out there.

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  2. Thank you for this website. It let’s me know I am not alone. And it gives me ideas on how to hear better and helpful hints.

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  3. I don’t know that it is harder for me than it is for anyone else, male or female, that has hearing loss. My father had hearing loss and my younger sister has it also. Mine is probably partly inherited and partly due to high level noise exposure. My hearing loss is mainly in the midrange frequencies. Most of what I hear sounds like it is coming from an old AM radio with a bad speaker. High ambient noise levels and bad acoustics make it very difficult for me to understand speech. Most of the problems that I have are with other people who treat me like I could turn my hearing back on if I wanted to. For the most part, they have never experienced the problems that I have and they can’t understand it. I try to explain that louder is just louder, not better. I try to explain that I heard most of what they said, but missed a few key words and get the whole message repeated loudly and sarcastically because it was my fault that I didn’t hear it in the first place. I think that the fact that I can hear sounds leads people to believe that I should understand speech.

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  4. @ Bill – You said “I think that the fact that I can hear sounds leads people to believe that I should understand speech.” I think that is the very heart of the problem we who have hearing loss deal with daily. I have made pease with having to deal with that attitude for the rest of my life. Hearing loss is a permanent condition. It can be dealt with through amplification as I have done for nearly 20 years and now I am breaking in a new cochlear implant which doesn’t amplify sound but creates a digital facsimile of speech which requires as much commitment and work as learning a foreign language – it seems to me.

    What Shari ad others are doing with their advocacy is going a long way toward helping the public to understand hearing loss as they see it in others, to combat the stigma associated with hearing loss and to campaign for a quieter environment for everyone.

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    • I think that this blog is very helpful, both to those with hearing loss and to those who don’t understand hearing loss. It is not always easy to articulate the experience of hearing loss. I would very much like for more people to read and understand how hearing loss affects us.

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  5. Men have been quick to tell me that wearing hearing aids is easier for me because I can conceal them under my hair. Yes, I can choose to show my hearing aids, or not. But I can not, do not conceal my hearing loss. I found it was easier to be open about my hearing loss if I let my hearing aids show. When my girls began elementary school, I cut my hair short, above the ears, and my aids were visible to all. Like you, I felt it was important to be open and honest about my communication challenges and to be a role model for my children.

    I think acceptance and willingness to be out there comes in incremental steps. Treating hearing loss is quite different from requesting and using hearing assistive technology in public or on the job. Male or female, we don’t like to expose our vulnerability if we feel it will put us at a competitive disadvantage. I know men who go to great lengths to conceal their diminished hearing. And I know women who reveal their aids but are quick to downplay challenges. What part does the role of family provider play in acknowledging the impact our loss has on daily communication, work and family relationships? Is it harder for men to ask for help? Probably.

    Your supportive tips are terrific for anyone–male or female, young or old, in supporting their hearing loss or that of a loved one. a loved one. Excellent post!

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  6. My glass is always half full, losing the hearing in my right ear was God helping me sleep at night. You see my wife snores really loud, so I just roll over on my left side.

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  7. Men and women, Mars and Venus…..yep, men do have a hard time “admitting” frailties. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but for me in my time, men were supposed to be tough, strong, resilient, blah, blah. Whatever the malady, we were expected to tough it out, suck it up, deal with it and go on like “it” didn’t exist. Of course, this is/was wrong. How many misunderstandings, missed quiet moments, little treasures did I miss while in denial? There was a time when hearing loss was associated with aging, diminished mental capacity, social withdrawal and over all crankiness. We all know or knew people who simply didn’t accept their hearing troubles and chose to not do anything about it. When I finally accepted help, it was like a window shade was pulled! I received comments like, “Everyone has known about your troubles forever, glad you finally got with the program!” Ouch. To my fellow men out there, get checked, accept help if you need it and wear your hearing aid(s) with pride. They say that your hearing loss is more “visible” than your hearing aids. It’s true. False vanity and denial don’t make men strong.

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  8. Oh wow! I can identify so easily with this.

    What you describe is what I saw in my own family with both my late father and late grandfather.

    There is hereditary adult onset deafness in my father’s side of our family that first becomes noticeable when we reach our mid 50s.

    Though I don’t remember it so much in my grandfather because he was almost 60 when I was born, I do remember that he was profoundly deaf in his later years.

    I did notice it more in my father. I watched his hearing loss develop from his mid 50s onwards. As you say in your blog there was an attitude in my father’s generation where any suggestion that communication was becoming a problem was met with obstinance and a refusal to seek help.

    It seemed to be linked to the stigma that surrounds hearing loss and wearing hearing aids wasn’t a macho thing to do. By the time my father gave in he was in his late 70s and bordering on being profoundly deaf.

    When he did get a hearing aid he hated it and only wore it under duress from my mother.

    My father’s surviving brother is also deaf but being in education as a teacher he got hearing aids early on in his journey into deafness.

    Backtrack a few years to when I hit age 54. Little by little I started to ask people to repeat themselves. I had trouble holding conversations with more than one person at once. A conversation with one person when there was background noise became too difficult to deal with, meetings became a nightmare.

    I went to my local health centre (I live in the UK and used the British National Health Service). I had a nurse syringe my ears as I was convinced that my problem was that they were full of wax. A little wax came out but no significant improvement in hearing.

    A couple of months went by and I went back questioning whether she had got all the wax out. She examined my ears and they were clear so she booked me in for a hearing test, just a screening. I failed it and in the UK NHS system with these things your doctor refers the patient to an E.N.T. doctor at the nearest audiology department in a hospital.

    One set of hearings tests later and the E.N.T. doctor confirmed that I had a hearing loss and needed hearing aids. My first aids were small behind the ear style with the slim tubes and tiny dome tips as the ear fitting.

    Of course I still had the nervous first morning when I went to the office wearing my new aids.

    Why is that? Is still the stigma hanging around? Only one of my colleagues noticed them straightaway and she was actually happy to see them.

    Fast forward a few years and my hearing loss is a bit more severe and I now have bigger behind the ear aids with full ear moulds and I’m not bothered any more about who sees them.

    I like to think they tell the world I have trouble hearing, a fact anyone would notice if they spoke to me when I wasn’t wearing them.

    Is hearing loss more difficult for me as a man? I don’t think so because as my audiologist has told me it was bound to happen because of the family pattern and looking back I think I knew years ago that I would probably be deaf as I got older.

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