I’ll never forget my first hearing test. I was in my mid-20s, in graduate school and terrified. My father had hearing loss, as did his mother, so the fact that I was getting a hearing test so early in life was not surprising. It was traumatic nonetheless.
My father felt ashamed of his hearing loss. He went out of his way to hide it by isolating himself from friends, family and co-workers. I remember parties where he would sit alone in the corner, watching and waiting for someone to approach him. At the time, I thought he was just shy. Now I experience hearing loss, too, and I know the truth. He was probably exhausted from trying to hear with all the background noise and decided quiet solitude was better than the embarrassment and effort of not hearing what others had to say.
My family unfair
My family’s lack of support didn’t help my father accept his hearing loss. My mother would sometimes whisper mean things to my sister and me behind his back. She’d tell us not to worry because, “He can’t hear us.” Her behavior taught me that hearing loss was shameful, embarrassing and something a person needed to tackle on his own, without help or emotional support.
Despite this backdrop, I approached my first hearing test like any other—I wanted to do well. “Was that a beep?” I asked myself over and over during the exam. If the answer was even a “maybe,” I pressed the button. “The patient was difficult to test,” it said on my audiology report, “due to a high number of false positives.” Perhaps I was trying to trick the test into showing that my hearing was fine. No such luck.
This was a long time ago. Now, I’ve accepted my adult-onset genetic hearing loss and I work to help others live fully with their own hearing loss. I became a hearing health advocate, and currently sit on the national board of Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I also share the challenges and successes of my experience through my blog LivingWithHearingLoss.com.
Hear’s what patients want
Those difficult early years of experiencing hearing loss stay with me, however, and I’m not the only one. People with hearing loss remember their first visit to an audiologist’s office. They experience high hopes alongside great worry. Here are five things I—and other patients—want from audiologists during that first visit and throughout our care.
1. Acknowledge our hearing loss story. Some stories are traumatic—others less so—but every patient has one. Give all patients a little time to talk. Ask why we’re there and listen to our answer. Your response has a big impact on the likelihood we’ll continue treatment. Offering upbeat yet realistic expectations for what we can accomplish also helps us accept the diagnosis.
2. Provide accommodations at your office. Your receptionist should be welcoming and easy to understand, even over the phone. Speaking clearly and while facing the patient is critical. Consider investing in a hearing loop for your office. Not only does it show respect, but it can also be used to test the t-coil in your patients’ hearing aids. Provide a written summary of each visit including audiogram results and recommended action steps. This makes us more likely to follow your advice.
3. Focus on hearing solutions, not products. Be sure to explore your patient’s priorities for hearing better. Do they work and need a captioned phone? Attend the theater often? Dine out frequently? The more you know, the more appropriate solutions you can offer.
4. Keep up to date on hearing assistive technology. New devices are constantly coming on the market to help people with hearing loss watch TV, enjoy dining out and more successfully attend a lecture or live performance. Stay current on innovations to better integrate these items into your patient’s hearing loss tool kit.
5. Bridge a link to the broader hearing loss community. Your patient looks to you for answers. Explain the risks of untreated hearing loss, the latest scientific research and where she can go to learn more. Suggest the patient meet other people with hearing loss through a local HLAA chapter or similar group. A strong community for your patient helps support better hearing.
Denying his hearing loss significantly reduced my father’s ability to connect with other people—even family. I hope my insights as a hearing loss patient will help others avoid his challenges.
This article was originally published in The ASHA Leader. Reproduced with their permission.