Why are People Ashamed of Hearing Loss?

Dr. Li-Korotky
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Think back to the last time you had a conversation with someone who has untreated hearing loss. When you tried to communicate, did you encounter any problems? Some people have found a way to make do with the limitations on their hearing, but most continue to struggle to have a conversation. Perhaps you found it difficult to move from one idea to the next, seemingly jumping around to random topics. You might have had to repeat yourself or move your body in a way that made it easier to understand. In the worst cases, one or both of you might have become very frustrated, angry, or disappointed with the limitations that presented themselves. Attempts to converse with a person who has untreated hearing loss can become overwhelmingly negative.

With these interactions in mind, you might understand why a person with untreated hearing loss might have an overall negative association, trying to cover up or hide their condition. Yet, why would a person feel ashamed of their limited hearing ability? We know that it is no fault of the individual that they have developed hearing loss. In most cases, hearing loss develops as a natural part of the aging process, but some people have an intense feeling of shame surrounding hearing loss. Let’s take a moment to consider some of the reasons that a person might feel that way, as well as some of the things you can do to relive that feeling of shame.

Social Stigmas about Hearing Loss

Although few of us would admit to taking part, there can be social stigma against hearing loss in a number of contexts. Those who have to repeat themselves in public interactions can become frustrated or even angry that a person cannot understand. When expected to reorient toward a person with hearing loss, a speaker might become annoyed. In many cases, those without hearing loss can become condescending and patronizing to those who have hearing loss, treating them as if they are less intelligent or even incapable of understanding on a cognitive level.

Although these experiences can be subtle, they can accumulate in the mind of a person with untreated hearing loss. Over the years, they may get the sense that others are displeased with them or look down on them. These are just a few of the possible reasons that a person might be ashamed of hearing loss. However, there are things you can do to relieve that sense of shame. The first step that can be helpful in conversation is to make it as easy as possible to hear what you are saying. If it feels comfortable, raise the volume of your voice, and turn your head toward the listener. Reading visual cues is an important method of satisficing for a person with limited hearing ability. Most importantly, don’t demonstrate frustration or anger at the communication process. Take care that you don’t treat the person as if they are unable to understand on a cognitive level. Instead, simply make it easier for the conversation to proceed in whatever way is most comfortable for the person with untreated hearing loss.

Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss

The best thing you can do to reduce the sense of shame accompanying hearing loss is to take part in the pursuit of treatment! Although hearing loss afflicts many people, including seniors, assistance is available to make communication easy once again. The first step will be to encourage the person with hearing loss to make an appointment with our team at Pacific Northwest Audiology.  We will be able to diagnose the individual nature of hearing loss, considering the lifestyle needs and particular limitations facing the person.

A consultation will reveal some of the most difficult contexts for hearing, and a hearing exam will give a specialized look at the ranges of hearing that are most difficult. With this information in hand, our team will be able to recommend the right kind of assistance to suit the individual. Such a wide range of options is available that you will need help sifting through the many models and styles of hearing aids on the market. Assisting a person to seek treatment is the best way you can alleviate the shame that can come with hearing loss!