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Hearing Loss Has an Emotional Toll

Across the globe, more than 1.5 billion people are living with hearing loss.

Hearing loss is caused by a variety of factors – noise, age, heredity, or disease – and may be something you are born with or acquire later in life.  While the loss of hearing itself is physical, it can have a far-reaching and negative impact on someone’s overall well-being.

“Hearing loss can take a toll on one’s mental health,” said Deborah Litberg, licensed clinical social worker, with Samaritan Lincoln City Medical Center.  “It affects the ability to communicate and socialize, and it affects the quality of interactions with other people. This can be a very isolating feeling.”

Some of the most common emotional responses to hearing loss include:

  • Being angry.
  • Denial.
  • Low self-esteem / lack of self-confidence.
  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Withdrawing from friends and family.

Emotional responses can vary based on the age when hearing loss occurs as well on family dynamics and the resources that are available to the person impacted.

Hearing Loss & Adults

In some ways, hearing loss can be even more difficult for adults than children since adults can be less open to change and learning new things.

“When adults lose their hearing, it’s common for them to become fearful about their inability to communicate as clearly as they once did. They miss conversation and intonation, and can often misunderstand information,” said Litberg.

This shift in communicating with others can also lead to feelings of powerlessness and loss of independence.

“Not being able to interact with others as they have been accustomed can be unsettling and cause anxiety,” said Litberg. “It is not uncommon for a previously friendly and social adult to begin to isolate themselves from friends, colleagues and family out of frustration or embarrassment.”

For older adults, the loss of independence can be overwhelming. According to a study on the elderly and depression, one in five older adults with hearing loss have symptoms of clinical depression.

Often adults may be reluctant to seek treatment not only for their hearing loss but for the stress they are dealing with as they try to remain connected to the world around them.

“Reaching out to loved ones or a counselor for emotional support can help reduce or alleviate the psychological impact of hearing loss,” said Litberg. “And it’s important that adults identify and utilize treatments and tools that work best them.”

The good news is advancements in technology, including invisible in-ear aids, hearing loops, automated speech recognition and captioned smart glasses, are continuing to improve the way in which people with hearing loss are able to interact with others and improve one’s overall quality of life.

Hearing Loss & Children

Hearing loss can be a tremendous challenge for children because they are faced not only with struggling to understand their world, but they are also still developing coping and social skills.

“When a child is diagnosed with hearing loss, it may lower their self-esteem and impact their ability to succeed at school,” said Litberg. “A child may have more behavioral issues such as hyperactivity or aggression due to feelings of depression, anxiety, or learning challenges.”

Children also want to fit in with their peers so being unable to communicate normally or the idea of wearing a hearing aid can make them feel different than others.

This experience is also common for those who are born with hearing loss, says Litberg.

“Ninety-two percent of babies who are born deaf are born into hearing families, so the value of hearing is highly skewed,” said Litberg.  “From the start, they may feel unworthy and like the odd person out. Feeling different and possibly not accepted can significantly affect the attachment that child has to their family.”

While there are many options that may help to manage hearing loss and improve communication, including sign language, hearing aids, cochlear implants, and sometimes surgery, no single treatment is the answer for everyone.

“The best thing a parent can do is adopt communication tools that work best for their child,” said Litberg. “A child has a worse prognosis psychologically when they are not allowed to determine for themselves if hearing aids, for example, are enough or if sign language might be better suited for them or both options together.”

In addition to communication tools, it is important that parents find ways to support the emotional aspect of hearing loss that their child is facing.

“Finding mental health resources specifically designed for individuals with hearing loss or children who are deaf / hard of hearing might be a challenge as this is a very underserved group,” said Litberg. “While there are counselors who have experience with hearing loss or know sign language, for example, access is not always readily available. The National Association of the Deaf and Oregon Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services are both good resources providing information and support for both kids and their parents.”

For school-aged children, Litberg recommends parents take advantage of Individualized Education Program or IEPs offered by schools to ensure their child gets the support and services they need while in class.

How to Support Loved Ones With Hearing Loss

“Hearing loss is a life change and a significant loss,” said Litberg. “When you are interacting with someone with hearing loss, it is important to be patient and respectful.”

Supporting your loved one and understanding how they like to communicate is key. If they use sign language, learn sign language. Keep in mind things like turning off background noise, speaking slowly, using closed captioning when watching TV or facing them while you are speaking so they can see your mouth and the gestures you make.

“These steps can make a huge difference in your ability to communicate with one another and help to alleviate some of the isolation or anxiety someone with hearing loss may be feeling,” added Litberg.

For more information and resources on hearing loss, visit National Association for the Deaf, or Oregon Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services or their Facebook.