I recently presented a mini module at the American Academy of Audiology’s annual convention in Nashville. My talk was well attended and I received numerous comments and questions from the audience after the presentation. I am excited and grateful to have had the opportunity to share the patient’s perspective with such an impressive group of audiologists and related hearing professionals. Below I share my remarks from the meeting. I hope to have the opportunity to speak on this topic again soon.
Good morning everyone! My name is Shari Eberts. I am a hearing health advocate, writer, and the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, an online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. I sit on the national board of Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and assuming most of you in the room are audiologists, I am also one of your patients.
My Hearing Loss Story
My hearing loss journey began in my mid-20s when I was a graduate student. Fairly quickly into the first semester, I began to miss things in class — a comment that was made under one’s breath or as an aside. Sometimes the class would erupt in laughter and I would be left looking around the room trying to figure out what had been said.
I knew what the problem was. I was losing my hearing. My father developed hearing loss as a young adult, as did his mother. I was entering a path from which there is no escape. I was devastated.
The stigma surrounding hearing loss was strong in my home growing up, such that my father eventually became isolated and withdrawn as he tried to hide it from everyone. I remember him sitting alone at parties and just assumed he was shy. But now that I have hearing loss, I know the truth. He probably couldn’t hear and was just too embarrassed or exhausted to try.
For many years, I hid my hearing loss too, using my hearing aids only when absolutely necessary, avoiding friends I couldn’t hear and isolating myself more and more. I was following my father’s example.
But then I had children of my own. Since my hearing loss is genetic I worry that I might have passed it onto them. I didn’t want them to see me hiding my hearing loss and being embarrassed by it. I needed to accept my hearing loss. So I did. And now I am an advocate for people like me.
The Audiologist Role is Key
For most people, an audiologist is the first hearing care provider they see. This was the case for me. The tone and outcome of that first visit is critical in setting the individual down his or her hearing loss path. Your role is paramount in helping the patient overcome stigma, learn how to utilize their new devices, and embrace this new phase of life. Please take your responsibility seriously.
How can you help your patients hear their best? Here are my suggestions.
Partner With Your Patient
1. Focus on hearing solutions specific to the patient. Be sure to ask about your patient’s priorities for hearing better. Do they work and need a captioned phone? Do they have trouble hearing in meetings or one on one at home? Attend the theater often? Dine out frequently? The more you know, the more appropriate solutions you can offer. Most often the best solution will be a combination of hearing aids and other things.
2. Set realistic expectations. Everyone wants hearing aids to work like glasses — you put them on and suddenly your hearing is back to normal. But we all know it doesn’t work that way. Explain the work and time that will be required by both the audiologist and by the hearing aid wearer to get things working smoothly.
3. Include the family. Hearing loss impacts the entire family so include them whenever possible in these discussions. Family involvement increases the likelihood of compliance and success.
4. Provide hearing accommodations at your office. Remember your patients are there because they can’t hear well! Make them feel welcome by insisting your receptionist is easy to understand, even over the phone. Invest in a portable hearing loop, a simple pocket-talker-like device or other assistive listening technologies for your office to aid in communication.
1. Incorporate hearing assistive technology or HAT. The most effective hearing solutions combine hearing aids with other technologies. Stay current on new devices and apps that are developed to help people with hearing loss watch TV, enjoy dining out, attend a lecture or live performance so you can integrate them into your patient’s hearing loss tool kit. HAT can be confusing. Train your receptionist to work these devices so they can help your patients learn the ropes.
2. Recommend T-coils. While T-coils have been around for a long time, many audiologists do not make patients aware of them. Please do, since T-coils can be life changing when attending the theater, riding in a taxicab and at lectures and museums. As more venues install loops, T-coils will only become more useful.
3. Try the devices yourself. Try out the hearing aids and other assistive listening technology in various listening situations (at very low volumes of course). Use captions readers at the movies or a Roger pen at your next family dinner. Real life experience with the products will help you better understand the fit and programming issues your patients are facing.
See Beyond The Technology
1. Share communication tricks and tips. While things like getting the attention of the person first, and making sure the speaker’s mouth is visible are obvious to you, they may not be to someone new to hearing loss or to his family and friends.
2. Teach self-advocacy skills. Many people with hearing loss are shy about asking for the accommodations they need. Encourage them to ask for captioned phones at work and to use caption readers at the movies. Explain the options they have open to them through the ADA. Asking for what we need is difficult at first, but it gets easier every time we do it.
3. Join the hearing loss community. Attend meetings of the local HLAA chapter or similar group and recommend that your patients get involved too. Meeting other people with hearing loss made a big difference for me. Finally, I had people who understood my frustrations and from whom I could learn useful tips to help me hear my best. It is also a good source of referrals.
4. Be a hearing ambassador. Counsel your patients to protect the hearing they still have. Be an ambassador for hearing health wherever you go — loud restaurants, concerts, etc. You can make a huge difference for others who may not know how important it is to protect their hearing.
Want More Patient Perspective?
Readers, what would you add to my talk?