The Emotional Side of Hearing Loss

The day came when the hearing aids arrived at the doctor’s office.  Joey was excited.  She wanted them as soon as possible.  The first thing she said, after having her hearing aids fitted, was:

“I am not going to be punished for not hearing, anymore!”.

I wished that with all my heart.  Unfortunately, we all live and judge according to our own set of circumstances.  As such, most of her friends and family members assumed that the hearing aids would miraculously “fix” her hearing problem.  They certainly help because she has a hard time taking them off at night.  However, there is still an answered question:

How Do I Explain What it is Like to Not Be Able to Hear?

If you would like to know what your child or adult loved one is experiencing with their hearing loss, the first step is to understand more about their hearing loss.

Step 1: Know what type of hearing loss you have
Following an ABR hearing test, you will have a better understanding of how much of a hearing loss you have.  This can help you, family members and friends understand what grade of hearing loss you are experiencing.  Your ENT and audiologist can also help you explain more about your hearing loss, such as if you have a mixed hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, or a conductive hearing loss and whether there is a surgical option for correction or the option for a hearing aid.  You can also learn if your hearing loss is genetic or if it is the direct result of living in your environment.

Step 2: Realizing the challenges of not being able to hear syllables and sounds
Individuals with a hearing loss often have trouble determining certain sounds when communicating.  This can make it difficult on children in the classroom and for adults at work.  Below is an example of a wonderful tool called the “speech banana” that can help us understand what our loved ones are hearing or not hearing (based on different pitches within their environment).  The sounds that we use to produce speech have frequencies and decibels.  The most typical frequency and decibel for each speech sound has been graphed on the audio-gram below to provide information about what sounds can be heard at specific degrees of hearing loss.  A child  or an adult that can hear the sounds of speech will have a much easier time imitating, understanding and learning spoken language when compared to that of a child or adult who can not hear all of the sounds of speech.

The audio-gram below contains drawings depicting typical sounds and where they fall on the audio-gram.  Jet planes, for instance, are loud, high decibel, high frequency, sounds while wind rustling leaves is a much lower decibel sound. A child may be able to hear certain low frequency sounds such as [m] but not hear higher frequency sounds such as [s] and [sh] even with the use of hearing aids.  Missing those sounds may change their understanding of what is being said.

This is a typical “speech banana” audio-gram. Please click to enlarge the image.

For example, knowing that my daughter’s bilateral (hearing loss in both ears) sensorineural hearing loss is moderate to severe (56dB/70dB), I realize that she can hear dogs barking, phones ringing and the piano sounds when looking at the “speech banana” chart.  She is not able to distinguish between (f) and (v) when certain words are presented to her during conversation.  Also,  she cannot hear the water running, birds singing or leaves rustling (even with the use of hearing aids).

When it comes to sensorineural hearing loss, the picture is changed completely: people with this kind of hearing loss can hear more sounds than the normal hearing person.  However, those sounds are not always translated into comprehensible speech ( they hear the sounds, but they cannot always make out what are you trying to say).

Show your friends and family what sounds you have difficulty distinguishing between and hearing on the the speech banana.  This can help them learn to say certain sounds a little louder, or speak into your better hearing ear or to speak directly in front of you so you can read their lips.

Step 3: Helping your family and friends understand how much you can not hear
Often times, it can be very difficult trying to explain to others what it is like to not be able to hear and what it is that you can and can not hear.  This can become frustrating for everyone.  However, if you can show them exactly what it sounds like with your degree of hearing loss, this may be an eye opener for them and help them understand more about what you are experiencing.  Have them watch this video:

Different levels of hearing loss are referred to as degrees, depending on the severity of loss.

Degree of Loss Hearing Threshold (in decibels dB) Ability to Hear Speech
None 0-25 dB Little or no difficulty
Mild 26-40 dB Difficulty hearing soft speech but can understand in quiet environments
Moderate 41-55 dB Difficulty understanding speech, especially when background noise is present. Television and Radio require higher volumes
Moderate to Severe 56 – 70 dB Speech sounds muffled and unclear. Speech must be loud with understanding very difficult in group situations.
Severe 71 – 90 dB Normal speech is inaudible. Comprehension is achieved only through shouted speech.
Profound 91+ dB Amplified Speech is unclear.

Step 4: Helping family and friends realize how technology can help you hear better
Sometimes, it can be difficult convincing parents, spouses, family, and friends that you can benefit from the use of wearing a hearing aid or bone conduction sound processor.  Hearing aids are not meant for everyone.  Some individuals can not adjust to them and choose to live their lives without wearing one.  All of this is fine as long as you were informed about your options and at least tried one just to see what it is all about.

Step 5: Always know your options so you can make the best decisions
After meeting with your ENT and audiologist and speaking about your options with a family member or friend, you should be able to make a decision and feel good about that decision you are making.  Also, the decision that you make is “your” decision.  Try not to let anyone influence you or make you feel bad because they may have a difference in opinion.  Take in as much information as you can and do your own research.  Together, you will have enough information to think about and be able to make the best decision.  When you do make your decision about a hearing aid, remember that it may take some time to adjust to your new hearing aid and that is expected.  However, soon you will realize how much of your life you have been missing out on (the above text is sourced from http://www.npcsd.mhrcc.org).

This is not meant to be the perfect solution for your struggles in making yourself or your loved one understood.  When it comes to hearing loss, this is just the beginning of an ongoing conversation with the hearing world.

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