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According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 1 in 3 Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have a hearing loss.  Beyond that population, half of those older than 75 years of age have some difficulty with hearing.

While there are many effective solutions to hearing loss such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive devices, health care professionals must always remember to treat the whole person.

For example, let’s take the number of persons with hearing loss who experience depression.  Studies often discuss the physical and psychological consequences of aging, but how often are the psychological and emotional needs of the late-deafened population discussed?  Is the person of a normal body weight? Do they have an eating disorder related to their frustration with losing their hearing?  Do they have co-dependency issues with alcohol or other substances?  Has it been addressed? Has a bout of depression been attributed to another health problem when it may be due to the isolating nature of hearing loss?

Years ago when I lost my husband I went into therapy.  I was surprised at how little the social worker knew about the consequences of hearing loss.  While she thanked me for teaching her all that she ever knew about treating someone with hearing loss, she never discussed why I was engaging in emotional eating. All this made me wonder how much training psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers receive in dealing with hearing loss.

The Struggle

Another issue is factoring in how we feel about all the changes that come along with aging with a hearing loss?   How has that affected our lives?  Do we feel less attractive wearing a hearing device?  Do we WEAR the device as much as we should?  Do we socialize less because we aren’t informed about devices or venues that can help us function in situations that we thought were inaccessible to us?  Do we feel embarrassed to tell friends we are missing what they are saying?  Are our friends and family supportive of us?  Do we feel a sense of disconnect because we have lost friends or family members at this time of life?

The Bluff

Hearing loss can be a real challenge.  Those of us with hearing loss know about the big bluff.  Someone tells us something once, then twice, then the third time we smile and pretend we are with them.  Are we in denial of our hearing loss?  Do we accept this new older late-deafened person we have become?  Has the transition from a mild hearing loss to one that impacts us profoundly affected our lifestyle or our home life? Growing older can have it’s challenges.  Have we pasted together who we were and who we are at this stage of life? Do we embrace that identity?

The Triumph

In an aging population, when we are experiencing our worst bout of hearing loss other physical or personal losses are occurring.   In a strange way, if we use this tremendous loss as a learning experience, we end up more resilient.  We must be our own advocate and seek solutions. But we can sure use a little coaching along the way.  We need more health professionals who understand the complexities of hearing loss.

How can health professionals help?

Hospitals and nursing homes are filled with an aging population of people with hearing loss.  Health professionals must learn how to communicate and treat people with hearing loss.  Signage above the bed in hospitals and voice recognition/visual devices need to be installed.  Nursing homes need to ensure patients are wearing their hearing devices, have working batteries and routine device checks.  Dentists need to wear surgical masks with a clear view to help us read their lips.  Psychologists must read up on the consequences of hearing loss in later life and remember to include their findings in treating the whole person.  Doctors must have visual/vibrating devices to help patients know when their name is called in the waiting room.  Printouts of instructions, a diagnosis and contact information should be routine.  Text and email communications are long overdue.

All of this can help to prevent misdiagnosis.  Most of all, professionals who are informed about the consequences of hearing loss help to promote a state of well being and inclusiveness for their patients. Baby boomers are change masters.  They take a problem and seek out new and innovative solutions.  The solution here is inclusiveness in healthcare.  We are long overdue for new practices. Let’s all work for change and be the master of our own journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Such an important issue. The medical profession — especially psychotherapists — need to be alert to hearing loss and its emotional consequences. Also, why aren’t see-through medical masks the norm rather than an exception? Whether or not we hear well, seeing the speaker’s face is important in hearing correctly. And where is hearing correctly more esssntial than when you are a patient in a medical setting.

  2. Thank you for these multiple pointers. My husband has bilateral hearing loss, has worn aids for about five years and has steadily become more isolated. The aids don’t “fix” the problem, really. I’ve noticed a dearth of information on these “side effects” of hearing loss that you’ve mentioned. I think I’ll write an article, from the wife’s POV. Thanks so much for the nudge.

    1. Hi Janet, thanks for your comments. I think as a spouse of a person with hearing loss you have many observations that are valuable. Hearing loss doesn’t just happen to the person, it happens to everyone around them. You offered to write a guest post on my blog a month or two ago. I would love to take you up on that. Unless you prefer to publish on your blog site and I can share on mine. Please email me at marygracewhalen@gmail.com. Let’s talk.

  3. I don’t think health professionals are adequately prepared to deal with the hearing impaired whether you are a baby boomer or not. They need to have some training. Some years ago my mom who had a severe hearing impairment as in the hospital. The nurse or nurses aid kept taking her temperature with one of those in the ear thermometers. They had to keep pulling her hearing aid out and my father asked them not to. He requested they use the in the mouth thermometer. My father was assured that the girl taking the temperature knew all about hearing aids. After taking my mom’s temperature one morning she could not hear at all. She could not hear all day and it was very difficult for her. After work I came to see her and my father told me she could not hear. Since I have a hearing impairment as well he thought perhaps I could help. As it turned out, when the girl removed the hearing aid she hit the button in back and the hearing aid was put in telephone mode. So the button had to be pushed again for my mom to hear. Obviously, the woman the taking the temperature was not the expert they thought she was. So again I say health professionals need to have a little training in dealing with the hearing impaired.

    1. Hi Cheryl, thanks for your interest in my blog and for sharing your thoughts. These are the stories we need to change. There is such a vulnerability for anyone who entrusts their health and welfare to a healthcare facility. All of us need to tell these stories and then make sure change is implemented. Training is definitely a necessity.

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