There are positives and negatives to almost anything—including hearing loss. Today’s post highlights the downsides, but don’t worry, next time we will highlight the silver linings.
The Downsides of Hearing Loss
Please add your pluses and minuses in the comments.
With hearing loss, communication takes work! It’s like playing a game of Wheel of Fortune. Some of the letters are filled in while others are blank. We must use context clues, speechreading cues, and anything else we can think of to transform the incomplete sounds we hear into words or phrases that make sense in the context of the conversation. It’s not easy and requires a lot of processing power. No wonder we are tired after a long day of listening!
Appearing rude or unfriendly
When you have hearing loss, sometimes you don’t know when people are speaking to you. For example, if a person behind me says, “Excuse me,” I won’t always move out of the way. They may think I am being rude, but the reality is that I didn’t hear them. Because hearing loss is invisible, people often assume the worst.
Getting our hearing tested
It’s hard taking a test you know you’ll fail, but even so, I get my hearing tested at least annually. Accurate data helps me choose the best hearing aid and assistive listening technologies for my particular hearing loss. When combined with a can-do mental attitude (we call this a MindShift in Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss) and behavioral changes like identifying as someone with hearing loss, communication becomes much easier.
Missing the punchline of the joke
Everyone bursts out laughing, but I missed the final word—the one that contains the humor. It’s never as funny on the second retelling, even if I can get someone to stop laughing long enough to repeat it. It may seem like a small thing, but missing the punchline of the joke makes us feel disconnected from others and can add to feelings of social isolation.
Drowning in rapid speech
Are people speaking more quickly? Or maybe my processing capability is slower? Either way, the rapid fire delivery of news anchors, restaurant servers and almost every teenager is hard to swallow (and hear!). It can make it challenging to keep up and adds to the listening fatigue described above. The same goes for mumblers and low-talkers. Slow down, please, you talk too fast.
Movies, media and conferences without captions
Hearing loss continues to be seen as an afterthought for disability access. Ramps are a necessity in all modern spaces. And they should be. Why aren’t captions? Progress is being made—movie theaters provide captioning devices and most video platforms offer them—but there are snags. Devices don’t consistently work well and Zoom, the most popular of al the video conferencing platforms still requires the person who sets up the meeting to enable captioning in the main account settings—not always easy at a large institution. More work remains.
Never mind and other dismissive behavior
“Never mind” or “it wasn’t important,” or similar phrases uttered in response to a request for a repeat are demeaning and cruel. They are a dismissal and insulting. It says that the listener is not important enough to the speaker to repeat what was said. If I hear that from somebody enough times, I don’t bother to interact with them any longer. It’s not worth my time.
Hearing loss stigma
Even with earbuds of all types drooping from almost everyone’s ears, hearing loss stigma remains. Often associated with being old or out-of-touch, hearing aids have not evolved into fashion accessories the way glasses have. Many people continue to hide their hearing loss for fear they will be mocked or excluded. Mainstream media has embraced the Deaf (signing) experience, yet people with hearing loss remain misunderstood or are used as the brunt of the joke. Our documentary, We Hear You, aims to shine a light on the lived hearing loss experience too.
Being met at the airport with a wheelchair
Has this happened to you? How about being offered braille information cards on board a plane? Or provided with an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter at the hospital when you do not sign. The general population misunderstands hearing loss, but I hope that continued advocacy will help bridge the gap over time.
Links with other health problems
Hearing loss is more than a sensory disorder. It is associated with other health problems too. Studies show that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes and there is a high correlation between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with a higher risk of falls. Most alarmingly, untreated hearing loss is linked to a higher risk of dementia, although additional studies show that using hearing devices lowers the likelihood for those most at risk.
Readers, what are your least favorite things about hearing loss?