Podcast: Hearing Health Advocacy With Shari Eberts

I am thrilled to have been a guest on The Hearing Journal’s podcast series hosted by Clifford Olson, AuD. In it, I discuss how and why I got into hearing loss advocacy and provide suggestions to the audiologist community for how they can provide more patient centered care to people with hearing loss.

To listen to the podcast, click here.  The transcript (edited for easier reading) is below.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

Cliff Olson                         

Hello podcast listeners, welcome back. I’m Cliff Olson, Doctor of Audiology and host of The Hearing Journal podcast in honor of better speech and hearing month. This episode. I’ll be talking to hearing health advocate Shari Eberts about her experience with hearing loss and what we can do as a profession to encourage better hearing. Enjoy.

Shari Eberts                           

I’m Shari Eberts and I’m a hearing loss advocate. I’m a writer and I’m the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, which is a website and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. I also sit on the national board of Hearing Loss Association of America. I am a hearing aid wearer and someone who has hearing loss.

Cliff Olson

You have a unique journey. It’s unique in the sense that now you’re an advocate for the treatment of hearing loss for people who might be a little bit more resistant, whether it’s stigma or denial, whatever the case may be, but go through your mental process. That’s what we want to understand as we go into better speech and hearing month — what needs to be done to get people who were in your exact shoes to address the issue of hearing loss?

Shari Eberts

Right. Well, I grew up in a household where my father had hearing loss and there was tremendous stigma around that as I was growing up. He would not talk about it, he would hide it and he really isolated himself from all his friends and family as he continued to age. As a child I would see him do things like go off by himself at a party and be sitting alone and I just thought maybe he was shy, but now that I have hearing loss, I know exactly what he was doing. He probably couldn’t hear well and he was frustrated and upset and he just quit trying.

There’s a big problem for people with hearing loss who choose to take this isolation rather than work through the challenges and stay engaged. When I first developed hearing loss in my twenties, I was devastated because I had grown up in an environment where this was really a stigmatized activity.

I spent many years hiding my hearing loss. They say it takes seven to 10 years average before someone treats it. That was me. I finally did get the hearing aids but I hated wearing them. I would wear them because it was necessary, but as soon as I could take them out, I would take them out and I realized I was just following down this same path.

Once I had children, everything really changed for me because I have a genetic hearing loss and so I didn’t know if I’d passed it onto them. I hope not, but if I have, I want to make sure that they’re better prepared than I was to live a vibrant life. I realized I could no longer be setting this example of embarrassment and stigma and so I decided to accept my hearing loss, inspired by them. And now, as you said, I’m an advocate for people like me.

Cliff Olson

So, your children are really what prompted the advocacy, but you didn’t just keep it inside your household. I’ve done a little digging around on you, and you’re taking it to consumers as well. You’re taking it to individuals who you don’t know right now. They will know you if they get affiliated with all of the information that you put out consistently. But what led to you taking it outside of your household?

Shari Eberts

It is such an important issue, Also, witnessing someone who is important in your life destroy his life because of a problem that he was not able to overcome has a big impact. I wanted to share my story to help inspire other people to not be stigmatized by hearing loss. There’s nothing embarrassing about it and there are so many steps you can take, especially as technology improves, so that you can lead a satisfying and wonderful life.

I think it’s part of our job, in a way, people who have hearing loss, to be ambassadors for other people. That seven to 10 years is a real thing because people are dealing with the emotional challenges of accepting it and coming out publicly and so I’m hoping to shrink that time and really encourage people to see what they can accomplish with hearing loss once they’ve acknowledged it and once they’ve started treating it.

Cliff Olson

So there is some responsibility of the individual who has hearing loss in order to be willing to seek out that help, but there’s another aspect of us as providers, what can we do to help facilitate that better? You gave a talk this morning at AAA 2018 here in Nashville and it was titled “How Can You Help Your Patients Hear Their Best.” Can you give me the gist of that talk that you had this morning?

Shari Eberts

Absolutely. I was so excited to come and represent the patient’s perspective at this conference because it’s something that audiologists can do a better job of understanding —  really trying to put themselves in the shoes of the person who has hearing loss. Many of them do, but there’s always room for improvement.

In my talk today, I focused on three main points. The first is partnering with the patient — making sure that you are looking at each person as an individual. It’s so easy as you get into your routine to say, “Okay, you have this audiogram, let’s put you in this hearing aid,” but it is better to find out from the patient what it is they are trying to achieve with their hearing goals. Are they working? Do they need a captioned phone? Is it more a problem at meetings or one on one? What are they really looking for in terms of that?

Also making the office hearing loss friendly. You have to remember that your patients are here because they can’t hear well, so please make them feel welcome. Train your receptionist to speak clearly in person, but also over the phone. Making an appointment can sometimes be very stressful if you have trouble hearing over the phone.

I really encouraged them to make their office hearing loss friendly with a hearing loop, a portable loop or a pocket talker. These are investments they can make that would really help them partner with the patient.

The other thing I stressed in the talk was being open to innovation. The products and the technology are changing so much every day and this is exciting for people with hearing loss. And it’s also exciting for audiologists because there are all these other things that they can fit into their toolkit. Often the best solutions for people with hearing loss are a combination of hearing aids and other technologies.

The third main point was to look beyond the technology. There are other things and other skills that people with hearing loss need to develop. An audiologist can help them with things like tricks and tips for communication. It may seem obvious that you need to make sure that the mouth is visible or that you get the person’s attention first, but especially for someone new to hearing loss and their friends and family, this might be groundbreaking.

Cliff Olson

The interpersonal communication with individuals is an aspect that those of us treating hearing loss can overlook at times. It gets so technologically focused on the hearing aids and we forget sometimes that we’re treating human beings who have emotions and feelings. Since I am a guy maybe I’d like to try to avoid feelings. Right? {Laughter} But you don’t want to do that. You want to make sure that it’s patient centered care. This is the term that we use and it’s important that we make sure that we’re doing patient centered care and bringing in all these aspects instead of just treating with technology. I think that is very important.

As we go into better speech and hearing month, we need to make sure that we’re doing everything in our capabilities in order to have really good outcomes for patients and also to make things more accessible and bring awareness to hearing. And so from the advocacy standpoint, hearing care professionals can also be advocates, correct?

Shari Eberts

That’s one of the things I mentioned in my talk this morning as well, so I’m glad you brought it up. Audiologists have the knowledge to be ambassadors for hearing protection. This is an important issue for me. I have two teenagers at home and the way I see their friends treating their hearing and really not understanding that once it is damaged, that it is permanent. It is scary.

I have spent a lot of time with my children on that and I try to get them to be ambassadors as well. Audiologists have such an important role in that, not just in the audiological community but out in their local communities, whether it’s partnering with restaurants or movie theaters. The information they have is so important and they have a perfect opportunity to spread that message and also spread their own brand.

Also partnering with nonprofit organizations. Like I mentioned, I’m on the board of Hearing Loss Association of America and I think that advocacy groups like that are so important. For me, meeting other people who had hearing loss really changed my life. It was finally a group of people who understood my frustrations and could empathize but also could give me suggestions like, when you go to the movies, get the caption readers, and then I can share my communication tips with them as well.

That’s a great opportunity, not only for the patients, but also for audiologists to get involved in those local groups. It’s a great source of patients and it’s also a better way to understand what their patients want

Cliff Olson

You just gave at least five different things that a hearing care professional can do aside from putting out a mailer of hearing aids, which turns everything into a “I want you to come and buy a product from me” situation. Instead, you can go out and educate individuals, meet them on their turf and really spread the awareness. And once we get that awareness out, we know that can only lead to positive things.

Shari, thank you so much for spending time with us here today on the podcast. How can people learn more about you and get information about how to be more of an advocate themselves?

Shari Eberts

The best place to visit is my website, LivingWithHearingLoss.com. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook.

Cliff Olson

Excellent. Shari, thank you so much. Have fun at the rest of AAA.

Shari Eberts

Thank you.

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