In my previous posts I talked about my personal experience with hearing loss and also on SSHL. Today I want to focus on the effects of hearing loss; on a person’s confidence, relationships and everyday life as well as the challenges that family and friends face in learning to communicate and support a deafened person.
Helen Keller is credited with noting that “Blindness cuts us off from things but deafness cuts us off from people”. This is incredibly accurate and is often unrecognised by those around us.
Hearing loss can have a significant impact on both your social and professional life. Coping with hearing loss is different from other disabilities as it is invisible; even the sight of a hearing aid does not guarantee that a hearing loss will be acknowledged and understood. This makes communication with strangers very difficult as they are not aware that what they are saying may not be heard.
Those who are hard of hearing will find that they struggle to interact with their colleagues, peers and family, especially in noisy places. This can lead to feelings of isolation and result in gradually withdrawing from social activities to avoid feeling embarrassed or awkward during group activities.
You may find a deafened person (definitely me!) just nods along or smiles during group conversations – this is because we cannot hear what is being said and do not want to appear rude by interrupting and asking the speaker to repeat themselves.
In the working environment it can be especially hard; taking part in meetings, listening on the telephone and even team building activities will become tasks that you can no longer carry out. This can invoke feelings of inadequacy, incompetence and frustration resulting in low confidence which will impact on everything you do.
Everyday worries, such as losing a job will become even more stressful as hearing impaired people will be aware that there now will be roles and opportunities that are simply out of reach due to their disability.
Safety is a huge worry for those with hearing impairments. Imagine you are fast asleep and the fire alarm goes off, a “normal” hearing person would be awoken by their fire alarm but a deaf person may not, especially if they take their hearing aids out at night. Similarly, what would happen to a deaf person living alone who has an accident in their home and cannot call for an ambulance because they are unable to hear on the phone? These are all concerns that worry not only us, but also our loved ones.
For me, crossing the road has become more difficult, (yes, I wait for the green man Mum!) I recently very nearly got knocked over by an ambulance (oh, the irony!) because I could not hear what direction the sound was coming from.
Some people who become deafened, especially in later life, find that their personality changes as they learn to adjust to life with limited sound; some have experienced feelings of anger, depression and becoming short tempered with themselves and those around them as they struggle to communicate. It is especially hard to let go of your independence and come to terms with relying on other people to help you in everyday situations.
Hearing loss can impact on your mental health; depression and adjustment order can be natural responses to hearing loss and the impact it has on your quality of life. Feeling inadequate, stupid, awkward, embarrassed or abnormal are just some of the negative emotions that can arise.
A sense of belonging is vital to our mental health, yet individuals with hearing loss do not belong entirely in the hearing world nor in the Deaf world. There is a negative perception in the Deaf culture towards those who are hard of hearing who want to be a part of the hearing world, almost as if they are betraying themselves by attempting to be “normal”. It leads those with hearing impairments feeling like they have little support in either environment.
I have noticed that those with “normal hearing” assume that by talking louder or turning the volume up on the radio/television/telephone will enable us to hear – this is not true. Volume is often not the issue – it is difficulty in discriminating words from sounds. This will be particularly hard in lower frequencies.
A hearing impaired person can often feel a sense of guilt, assuming the responsibility for miscommunication and may blame themselves for any misunderstandings caused by their hearing loss. Many, myself included, feel apologetic about asking others to repeat themselves or when they cannot take part in social events.
Another effect of hearing loss, one I have found particularly hard, is exhaustion. People do not realise and appreciate that a hearing impaired person is working ten times harder at trying to identify sounds and words as well as concentrating on reading lips and therefore gets tired easily. There comes a point where your brain just cannot process any more sounds and begins to shut down, especially late at night.
That said, hearing loss doesn’t just affect the individual with the impairment, it also affects their colleagues, family and friends too. Some people may feel useless, like they cannot do anything to help deal with the disability. Some may grieve the loss of a comfortable relationship as they struggle to communicate, it is just as hard for family/friends to come to terms with the disability and this is something that often gets overlooked by the hearing impaired!
It is important that those with hearing impairments and their family/friends talk about their feelings, whether to a professional or to each other, only then can you truly appreciate each other’s perspective on the situation and make steps towards ensuring that effective communication can be made.
It is also important to know that there is help out there and that with the right information and attitude, the situation can improve.
Next week I’ll point out some handy tips and hints for both the hearing impaired and “normal hearing” to help improve communication.