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Changing Attitudes Reducing Stigma of Hearing Loss
By Iris Winston,
Canwest News Service May 18, 2010
Rex Banks says it’s no mystery why many people are reluctant to accept they no longer hear as well as they once did.
“It’s a loss,” says Banks, the Canadian Hearing Society’s director of hearing health care. “People grieve.”
Historically, there is a long-standing stigma related to hearing loss whether the person is hard of hearing or deaf, he says. “For aging seniors,
it signifies coming to an end, not being as in control of their faculties.
It indicates that they are less able than they used to be.”
In the past, he adds, many seniors would rather have an orthopedic shoe, two pairs of glasses and a walker than a hearing aid. “The average senior waits about seven years before even going for a hearing test.”
One of the reasons for the delay is that hearing loss is gradual, says Marshall Chasin, director of research at the Musicians Clinic of Canada and
an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario. “Hearing loss
is sometimes referred to as the invisible handicap because it comes on very slowly over a number of years. Because it is so subtle, people slowly
withdraw from social situations. In noisy places, they may answer
inappropriately, because they haven’t heard a question properly. Many may eventually become socially isolated.”
Banks describes how it gradually affects an individual’s social life. “When you are not using your residual hearing, you are more prone to miss
conversation and not be as involved with people. You don’t interact with
your friends. You keep to yourself, may misunderstand and answer inappropriately. Not doing anything about hearing loss creates all the
stigma fears that people are trying to avoid.”
Chantal Kealey, director of audiology and supportive personnel with the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, says
“people are going to notice hearing loss a lot more than a hearing aid, especially now that hearing aids are so small that they are virtually
impossible to see, unless you are looking down the (ear) canal. “If you have
hearing loss and are not doing anything about it, you are more likely to stand out in a crowd because you are either not participating in the
conversation or answering inappropriately.”
The miniaturization of hearing aids, combined with changing attitudes among baby boomers are reducing the stigma, says Banks. “The boomers se what their parents are going through and can’t understand the reluctance to do
something about their hearing loss. Generally, baby boomers want to live longer and stay healthy and they are proactive about it.”
At 62, Arlene Watson of Ottawa is one of those proactive boomers. “I never felt a stigma,” she says. She purchased her first hearing aid six years ago
before retiring. “Instead, I found people were kind and accommodating. We boomers grew up learning we would have to pay for the things we did. And
those Beatles concerts were very loud!
“The first hearing aid I had was annoying because it felt as though there was something in my ear all the time. And there was,” she adds, laughing.
“But my new one is magnificent. I forget it’s there.”
This positive approach is increasingly the way people are dealing with a common ailment, says Chasin. “Unfortunately, although it is getting better,
we still live in a society where people see someone wearing a hearing aid and treat them differently.”
That is what many young people with hearing loss fear, says Edmonton audiologist Kathy Packford. “Many teenagers don’t want their friends to know
they have a hearing loss, so they don’t want to wear assistive devices that make them look and feel different. They are afraid their peers will judge
them differently and may see them as less capable.”
Signs of Hearing Loss
- Muffled quality of speech and other sounds
- Loss of clarity. Difficulty hearing consonant sounds such as “sh” and “s”. Consonant sounds provide clarity and understanding of speech. A
person with hearing loss may still hear vowel sounds clearly.
- Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd of people
- Perception that people are mumbling
- Frequent need to ask others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly
- Need to turn up the volume of the television or radio
- Loss of confidence
- Withdrawal from conversations
- Avoidance of some social settings
Source: Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.com) and Dr. Marshall Chasin
Hearing Loss Factors
- Aging: The normal wear and tear from sounds over the years can damage the cells of your inner ear.
- Loud noises: Occupational noise, such as from construction work, and recreational noise, including loud music and the engine of a snowmobile or
motorcycle, can contribute to hearing loss.
- Heredity: Your genetic makeup can make you more susceptible to ear damage.
- Some medications: Some drugs can permanently damage the inner ear. Temporary effects on your hearing – ringing in the ear or hearing loss – can
occur if you take very high doses of aspirin.
- Some illnesses: Diseases or illnesses that result in high fever, such as meningitis, may damage the cochlea.
Canwest News Service