According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss. Approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) ages 18 and older report some form of hearing difficulties. The NIDCD also indicates that approximately 28.8 million American adults could benefit from using hearing aids. Of adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss, only about one in three (30%) have never used hearing aids. Of adults aged 20 to 69 years, who are more likely to be in the workforce, only about 16% who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them. There is research that has clearly documented the impact of hearing loss, from relationships to occupational performance and potential.
Hearing loss and Relationships
Hearing loss and communication breakdowns can have a significant impact on the quality of relationships, especially among family members. Negative emotions commonly associated with hearing loss include frustration, embarrassment, loneliness, withdrawal from social activities, decrease in shared activities, to name a few. These negative emotions can also affect the quality of relationships and the activities that should otherwise be enjoyable. Oftentimes with hearing loss, there is a spouse or significant other that they are co-depending on, to take over certain responsibilities, such as talking on the phone, taking over conversations, or being responsible for the information shared at a doctor’s appointment. This places a lot of unwanted stress on that partner and can create resentment and frustration. In situations where the person with hearing loss is speaking out of turn or not responding appropriately due to mishearing information, this can be embarrassing to both the person with hearing loss, but also their significant other.
Addressing the hearing loss by receiving treatment (hearing devices) and adjusting communication practices, can allow a person with hearing loss to regain self-confidence, independence, and satisfaction with their overall quality of life. It can also help relieve their loved ones from the stress and responsibility they feel of having to take care of everything. Many people believe it is their choice whether or not to pursue treatment for their hearing loss. However, purposely choosing not to treat their hearing loss is a selfish decision that not only affects them but others around them. By choosing to not address the hearing loss, he or she is placing unnecessary stress on other people to take care of their inequities. Hearing loss, treated or untreated, has negative implications on a person’s quality of life and ability to succeed, especially in the workplace.
How do hearing loss and communication breakdowns affect a person’s career?
Having a hearing loss, treated or untreated, can still have significant implications on career and income growth. According to a survey, “The Impact of Untreated Hearing Loss on Household Income, by Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D., in the Better Hearing Institute, hearing loss was shown to negatively impact household income up to approximately $12,000 per year, which varied by hearing loss, treated or untreated. The study also found that the use of amplification helped reduce the negative effects of hearing loss by approximately 50%. Not only does hearing loss affect a person’s earning ability, but it also has other implications in the workplace. It can result in an overall reduction in quality of life, such as anxiety, depression, social isolation, which can negatively impact job performance. Effective hearing is also important in terms of job safety and communication across various job types. Mistakes at work, due to miscommunication can cost a person or a company large amounts of money and productivity, which may ultimately cause a person to lose their job. By addressing hearing loss and utilizing effective strategies to minimize breakdowns and maximize communication, a person with hearing loss is more likely to succeed in the workplace. Utilizing effective communication strategies allows a person with hearing loss to advocate for themselves better in the workplace as well. This allows the proper accommodations to be made to help that person succeed in the workplace.
Communication Strategies For Those With Hearing Loss
One of the most frustrating experiences for anyone to go through is a breakdown in communication, especially if it occurs on a regular basis. These breakdowns can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to effectively perform duties at work, maintain relationships, and to enjoy day-to-day activities, to name a few. It is often forgotten that hearing loss does not just affect the person with it, but also those they interact with. Below are some strategies that can be utilized by both parties to improve communication and reduce breakdowns.
What communication strategies are available for a person with hearing loss to utilize?
- Face the people who are speaking.
- Ask them to rephrase what they said or asked.
- Repeat/rephrase what you heard, to confirm with them whether or not you understood them correctly. This is less frustrating than “huh?” or “what?” responses.
- Confirm the topic of the conversation, as context clues can help reduce the chance of responding in an inappropriate manner.
- If in a difficult listening environment, try relocating to a quieter space.
- Get in a space with good lighting to help maximize the visibility of facial cues.
- Don’t dominate the conversation. Take the time to listen and process what others are saying. It is not uncommon for a person with hearing loss to dominate the conversation, to minimize being asked questions that might be misheard or misunderstood. This is a defense mechanism that people with hearing loss might use without even meaning to do it.
What strategies can communication partners use to help minimize or repair communication breakdowns?
- Face the person you are speaking with.
- If asked to repeat, consider rephrasing what was said.
- Get their attention first before talking (e.g., say their name, tap on their shoulder, etc.).
- Excessive facial hair can be distracting for a person that relies heavily on speech reading.
- Keep hands and objects away from the face when talking.
- Do not over-exaggerate your mouth movements.
- Slow down your rate of speech.
Hearing loss can have negative implications on a person’s quality of life, impacting relationships, educational opportunities, career or earning potential, as well as a person’s ability to be functionally independent. There is supporting evidence that treating hearing loss can significantly improve many aspects of a person’s life, as well as those that he or she interacts with. Treating hearing loss with amplification is only one piece of the journey to better hearing and effective communication. Utilizing communication strategies can allow people with hearing loss to be more actively engaged in the participation of activities and being more included in their daily lives.
Written by: Matthew Wetmore, Au.D., Doctor of Audiology.