Hard of hearing, but unwilling to admit it
One of the most daunting obstacles people face with hearing loss is one word: Denial.
“They blame everybody else,” said J. Nicholas Vandemoer, MD, FACS. “They tell themselves that others are mumbling and not speaking clearly,”
Many people with hearing loss may also suffer from tinnitus, commonly known as ringing in the ear. “They also blame [the ringing] for why they don’t hear,” said Dr. Vandermoer, an otolaryngologist, better known as an eye, nose and throat specialist, at Cape Cod Healthcare. “That is not really the case.”
A recent study from the American Psychological Association agrees. Researchers concluded that hearing loss is having a disruptive effect on the daily lives of millions of people. Yet, while negatively affecting their quality of life, they are not seeking treatment.
“Many hard-of-hearing people battle silently with their invisible hearing difficulties, straining to stay connected to the world around them, reluctant to seek help,” reported David Myers, a psychology professor at Hope College in Michigan. Myers suffers from hearing loss himself.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 15 percent of American adults—roughly 37.5 million people—report some trouble with their hearing.
Yet, among adults 70 and older who would benefit from a hearing aid, only 30 percent have ever used one. For those younger than 70, only 16 percent have ever tried one.
Dr. Vandermoer said many adults spurn treatment not only because of denial, but also vanity and a lack of awareness of how much their hearing is impaired. Only when it begins to affect their work and social life will people begin to seek out treatment, he said.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that people wait for an average of six years from the first signs of hearing loss before seeking treatment.
Dr. Vandermoer recalled one patient, a lawyer who persevered through law school and 10 years of practice before he finally sought help. “I’m not hearing my clients very well,” he confessed. He also was growing more concerned that his hearing loss was affecting his social life as a bachelor.
In this case, the patient’s hearing loss was treated with surgery. Afterwards, he told Dr. Vandermoer: “I can’t believe I suffered so long. It absolutely has changed my life 100 percent. I’m so much more effective with people and in social situations.”
People suffer hearing loss for many reasons:
- With aging comes wear and tear on the ears that can affect the ability to hear soft sounds and understand speech at normal conversation levels. This condition, called presbycusis, occurs slowly over time and appears to run in families.
- Some genetic disorders increase the risk for hearing loss. For example, otosclerosis occurs when abnormal new bones form in the inner ear, which then affect proper functioning of other parts of the ear.