Hearing loss can be attributed to many factors such as long-term exposure or a sudden blast of loud noise, sudden pressure changes, injury to the eardrum, the build-up of ear wax, or advanced age. Other reasons include medications that cause ototoxicity, diseases, and illness, or trauma to the head or neck.
Whether it’s a sudden onset or a slow and gradual one, the loss of hearing is difficult to deal with. And not only for the individual experiencing it but for family and friends as well as others they encounter. While the effects can be farther-reaching than just the loss of hearing, such as the early onset of dementia, depression, increased fall risks, and a variety of other issues, the breakdown of personal relationships ranks towards the top of this list.
Relationships with a significant other are reportedly affected the most in approximately 35 percent of the participants of a survey published in the ASHA Leader in 2007.
Audiologist Patricia Chute, professor and chair of the Division of Health Professions at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. says, “All too often spouses blame each other’s ability to listen when in fact it is truly a hearing problem that is chipping away at their ability to communicate.”
The vicious cycle begins with a breakdown in daily communication, for both the little things as well as major events. This can lead to frustration and resentment with one partner feeling that the other is just not paying attention to them, when in fact they aren’t able to hear them well. Loneliness can set in, the feeling of intimacy can suffer, leaving both with a sense of isolation and aloneness.
Along with the negative emotions that are associated with hearing loss, many also experience the following:
- Decrease in activities shared with others (watching TV, outings, family time)
- Decrease in communication (minimal spoken interaction)
- Decrease in intimate conversations
- Decrease in joking with friends or family
- Decrease in social activities or social interaction
- Depression and feelings that they can’t regain what they’ve lost
- Difficulties sharing communication
- Loneliness for both hearing partner and those with difficulty hearing
- Loss of companionship
- Resentment for both hearing partner and those with difficulty hearing
Whether young or old, the inability to hear those around you can have troubling results. According to a study by author Adele M. Goman of Johns Hopkins University, “Hearing loss is a major public health issue.”
As reported in the study, from 2020 to 2060, the U.S. population of adults will see an increase in those age 20 years and older from approximately 44 million, or 15 percent, to 74 million, or 23 percent, with the highest increase in the older population. Of the current 48 million U.S. residents that have hearing loss, approximately one in four people actually use hearing aids.
That means that roughly 75 percent of the people who live with hearing loss are not utilizing the help that hearing aids could provide. This percentage represents all the people whose personal relationships might be in jeopardy.
By seeking treatment and practicing it daily, whether it’s using hearing aids or other methods prescribed, there is the great possibility of maintaining or even improving relationships with loved ones who have difficulties hearing.
There are multiple factors that play into the frustrations felt by both parties. For those with difficulties, they may think the speaker is mumbling, which could lead them to think they are making rude or snide statements.
They may experience embarrassment at having to repeat themselves or missing something important. This could cause them to withdraw from conversations more and more, which eventually could lead to feelings of loneliness and seclusion.
For the one who lives with them, it can be more frustrating, especially if they’re unaware that it’s difficult for the other to hear. They may think they’re being ignored when they are simply not heard. They may assume that the other person isn’t responding because they don’t agree or worse, don’t care.
Conversations at home and at work are no longer enjoyable, the casual banter more difficult or even absent. Employment may suffer which is cause for additional anxiety and possibly even termination from their job.
With these types of grim possibilities lurking, it’s surprising that so many people chose to ignore the assistance of hearing devices. While the decision ultimately rests with the one who has difficulty hearing, those around them need to be able to be relied on for support.
This type of adjustment isn’t easy, or fast, for many people and being surrounded by those who understand and are patient with the change can really make it feel like it’s possible to return to normal. Seeing the familiar frustration absent from your partner’s face when you ask them to repeat themselves is a welcome change.
This can happen if they know and understand the changes that are in progress. Having them attend appointments with your hearing health professional is a step in the right direction. This lets them have the opportunity to ask questions or express concerns about your condition as well as learn ways to help ease the adjustment period. It also sets them up to explain anything you might have missed at the appointment.
If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulty hearing, are having difficulty communicating because of the need to repeat a conversation, or are feeling secluded from normal activities, contact your hearing health provider today. By performing some simple tests, they can offer explanations and solutions for ways to better hear the loved ones around you this Valentine’s Day!