Even as an audiologist who has been licensed for over 28 years, I am astonished by the number of patients who visit the clinic for the first time and express embarrassment, shame, or even apologize for their difficulty hearing. This raises the question: Is there still some degree of stigma related to hearing loss and hearing aids? The answer: ABSOLUTELY. Compared to 10, 20, and certainly more than 30 years ago, the stigma surrounding hearing loss and hearing aids has lessened, but it has not disappeared.
Before discussing self-stigmatization, it is important to define a stigma. Stigma is a Greek word that means a mark of shame or discredit. It is most often used to describe a set of negative and often unfair beliefs a society or group of people share.
So what are some of the negative stigmas attributed to persons with hearing loss? First of all, we refer to changes in hearing acuity as a “loss” or “impairment,” which has negative connotations. I believe the first association people make is that hearing loss means one is old or aging. Another common idea suggests those with a decrease in hearing have declined mental cognition.
Individuals with hearing loss can often hold the same stereotypical prejudices as the general population, which is known as self-stigmatization. If an individual—particularly an adult with gradual hearing loss—has previously viewed hearing loss in a negative way, that individual’s social identity (how they perceive themselves) is altered. These negative stereotypes and self-stigmatization patterns may have detrimental effects on more than a person’s communication. Physical and psychological well-being is often negatively impacted as well.
Associations with hearing loss are certainly improving as diagnostic practices and amplification technology advance; however, we still have work to do. The following areas of focus can work to further reduce negative views on hearing loss:
Causes of hearing loss: Hearing loss may be due to many factors. In addition to the normal aging process, noise exposure, medications, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, and other influences need to be considered and their interactions understood.
Education: It is important to understand hearing loss and each individual’s communication needs. This can be achieved by working with an audiologist who views every individual’s hearing status and communication environments as specific to them, much like a finger print. Success can be reached and maintained over time through selection of appropriate amplification, assistive listening devices, and aural rehabilitation/counseling.
Support: Family, friends, co-workers, and peers can support by utilizing appropriate communications strategies, such as getting the attention of the hearing impaired individual before speaking.
Please feel free to contact us at (503) 232-1845 to discuss services available through our clinic. Awareness and education can refocus our views on hearing loss and communication difficulty!
Dr. Andrea Ruotolo