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The Consumer Handbook on Tinnitus

Hearing Aids Can Transform Your Life
Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D

    People purchase their first hearing aids usually because they’ve recognized that their hearing has worsened. In other words, some critical incident in their life has caused them to realize that their hearing loss was negatively impacting their life or the life of a loved one. Some finally realized that they were missing the finer aspects of life such as music, the softly voiced communication from their grandchildren, or the ability to comprehend what was going on at social gatherings or at the theater. They often found themselves being left behind socially, and becoming more and more isolated from shared experiences. On the job, some experienced underperformance and being passed over for promotions and salary increases. Baby boomers on the dating scene in their 50s have found themselves challenged in meaningful conversation, underpinning many relationship failures. Furthermore, some caregivers endanger their grandchildren because denial of hearing loss puts them at risk. Untreated hearing loss can be life threatening when you consider that some sounds in life warn us of danger, such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, car horns, sirens and even the sound of the garbage disposer. I’m aware of a woman with hearing aids who got them only after she damaged her hand pushing garbage into the garbage disposal not knowing it was running.  A second reason people try hearing aids is that they feel pressure from family members negatively impacted by the individual’s hearing loss. Family members find it exhausting to be the ears for their loved one in denial, and finally after long years of frustration and countless arguments, the individual visits a hearing health professional.1-5

     As you know by now, hearing loss occurs gradually. By the time you recognize a need for hearing aids, whether because you have come to that realization on your own or others have pushed you to it, your quality of life may have unnecessarily deteriorated. Although the majority (60 percent) of people with hearing loss are below the age of 65 and 36 percent of all people with hearing loss are below the age of 55, the average first-time hearing aid wearer is close to 70 years of age.1

     The vast majority of individuals have decided to wait to correct their faulty hearing with hearing aids. This comprises 75 percent of all people who admit to hearing loss and 60 percent of people with moderate-severe hearing loss (and only 9 percent of people with mild hearing loss). I suspect that while they may be aware their hearing has deteriorated, they delay hearing aid purchases with the excuses: “My hearing loss is not bad enough yet; I can get by without them; my hearing loss is mild.”  Yet half of these people report they’ve never had their hearing professionally tested, had their hearing last checked as a child or more than 10 years earlier.2

A large number of people wait 15 years or more from the point when they first recognize they have a hearing loss to when they purchase their first hearing aids. This is a tragedy because they might not be aware of the impact this delayed decision has had on their life and the lives of their family, friends and associates. Yet, when people finally realize the extent of their hearing loss and understand the impact that hearing loss has on their life, the average person acts rationally, correcting their hearing loss with hearing aids within 3 years (median average) of diagnosis.1

    So for most people with hearing loss, it’s an issue of awareness: understanding the extent of their hearing loss and comprehending the impact that hearing loss has on their quality of life. Let’s now review the literature on the impact of hearing loss on quality of life.

Hearing Loss and Quality of Life

The literature presents a compelling story of the social, psychological, cognitive and health effects of hearing loss. Impaired hearing results in distorted or incomplete communication, leading to greater isolation and withdrawal and therefore reduced sensory input. In turn, the individual’s life space and social life become restricted. One would logically think that a constricted life would negatively impact the psychosocial well-being of people with hearing loss.

     Dr. Carmen presented a number of emotional issues in Chapter One surrounding hearing loss. Here’s a quick review, with some additional ones. The literature associates hearing loss with embarrassment, fatigue, irritability, tension and stress, anger, avoidance of social activities, withdrawal from social situations, depression, negativism, danger to personal safety, rejection by others, reduced general health, loneliness, social isolation, less alertness to the environment, impaired memory, less adaptability to learning new tasks, paranoia, reduced coping skills, and reduced overall psychological health. For those who are still in the workforce, uncorrected hearing loss must have a negative impact on overall job effectiveness, promotion, and perhaps lifelong earning power. Few would disagree that uncorrected hearing loss per se is a serious issue.