Adult hearing loss often occurs gradually. This can make it more difficult for people to realize there is deterioration or recognize to what extent their hearing has declined. Experiences associated with hearing loss can cause many different frustrations, even difficulties. Let’s review some of the common issues individuals with hearing loss may face and ways to help improve the quality of life for those with untreated hearing loss.
What Are Some Common Issues Individuals With Hearing Loss May Face?
Some of the most common complaints among individuals with hearing loss are having to ask people to repeat what they said, feeling that people are mumbling, difficulty understanding conversations in a group, and most especially difficulty understanding in background noise.
The impacts hearing loss has on communication can have emotional and relational effects. Poor communication caused by hearing loss can put strains on relationships. A common example frequently seen is between spouses. When the individual with hearing loss is missing what their spouse says or constantly having to ask for repetition, their spouse can get frustrated with having to repeat or feel like the individual with hearing loss is just not listening to them. People will often tease and say, “my spouse has selective hearing”. But behind that teasing can often lie a mounting frustration and feeling like they are not being heard. On the flip side, the individual with hearing loss may become frustrated with their spouse for talking from another room or trying to talk while there is noise in the room like water running, often times not realizing that their spouse has probably always done this throughout their relationship, but now that hearing has changed, communication in these situations has become more challenging.
Another relationship that many patients report has been affected by hearing loss is with their grandchildren. Children’s’ voices can be more challenging for an individual with hearing loss. Many patients who are grandparents are disheartened by not being able to understand the precious things their grandchildren say or the hurt when a grandchild remarks on their hearing difficulty in that unfiltered way that children have. When relationships are put to the test by hearing loss, this impacts a quality of life.
Quality of life can also be affected by hearing loss in how it affects our social engagement. As hearing loss progresses and the individual is able to engage less and less in a social setting, there is a tendency for these individuals to begin socially isolating or withdrawing. Something I like to remind my patients is that you can be physically present in a situation without really being engaged in the situation. If you’ve gone out to eat with a group of friends but can’t hear the conversation and just sit quietly without joining in, you are not really engaging socially. And the more often you go someplace and can’t engage and enjoy the situation, the more likely you are to stop participating in that activity. When patients tell me that have stopped a certain activity because of their hearing loss, that tells me how much the hearing loss is impacting quality of life. This also becomes a concern because research has shown that social isolation and loneliness are two risk factors for dementia.
How Can We Improve Quality of Life for Patients With Untreated Hearing Loss?
One of the best ways to improve quality of life for those with hearing loss is to treat the hearing loss. For most individuals, treatment is going to be some form of amplification whether that is hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other types of technology. Determining the best treatment is going to start with seeing an audiologist for a complete hearing evaluation and discussing what treatment best suits you as an individual. For many individuals with hearing loss, hearing aids will be the most effective treatment for helping to provide access to sound.
Like all forms of technology, hearing technology is constantly improving. We continuously advancements from manufacturers in how the technology is processing an incoming signal. In recent years we’ve seen the introduction of AI or artificial intelligence into hearing aids. Something that is always a main area of focus in better understanding in background noise. We’ve seen advancements in these areas as well. How the devices are able to access and process the incoming sound signal and automatically makes changes to improve the sound quality. We’ve seen the introduction of motion sensing technology which can detect if the user is in motion. And this can be an important part of improved understanding in noise. If you consider the difference between sitting across from someone in a noisy restaurant vs walking with someone in a crowded mall, the location of the other person is going to be different and now hearing technology has the ability to adapt to that.
Bluetooth technology or the ability to stream phone calls from a smartphone to the hearing aids has been around for several years now, but this area has also seen improvements. Certain hearing technology can now offer hands free calls and direct Bluetooth streaming with other devices such as smart TVs. Companion accessories for hearing devices can also allow for TV streaming for non-smart TVs as well as other accessories like a remote microphone option that can improve understanding in noise by having your communication partner wear the device to stream to the hearing aids or place it on a table if with a group.
But hearing technology has also had advancements that impact overall health. There is technology available that can track various health factors such as steps and heart rate. We have fall detection hearing technology that can determine if the wearer has fallen and alert an emergency contact. And the concern over falls often affects independence as we age.
In addition to look at forms of amplification, counseling regarding good communication strategies is also important. An example of a good communication strategy would be to turn down noise in the environment, such as the TV before having a conversation. Or another example would be for the communication partner getting the individual’s attention before starting the conversation so saying “Hey John, do you need to go to the store?” instead of just “Do you need to go to the store?”. These communication strategies are for the listener and the speaker. And including a spouse, family member, or friend in these discussions can lessen the strain on relationships that we discussed earlier. It’s important to remember that communication is a two-way street and it is not solely the role of the individual with hearing loss to try and improve communication.
To learn more about how treating hearing loss could improve your quality of life, give us a call at 405-548-4335 to make an appointment!
Hearts for Hearing was founded in 2003 with a mission of providing hearing technology and speech therapy services at no out-of-pocket costs to families with children who were born deaf. 20 years later, we are still teaching babies and children born deaf to listen and talk. Our services have expanded to include adult hearing care with offices in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Shawnee. Our team of professionals has grown from our original three people to 117 now. Hearts for Hearing continues to provide the first set of hearing technology and therapy to children at no out-of-pocket costs to families, and now includes Newborn Hearing Screen services, major research initiatives, Eyes Open Ears On programming, and its own 3D ear mold lab.