by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Hearing loss is a complex issue. Thus, there is no single simple answer—so why do so many hearing health care professionals act as if hearing aids are the sole answer?
Dr. Mark Ross, himself hard of hearing for as many years as I’ve been alive, is probably the foremost audiologist alive today, and one I highly respect. He recently wrote:
In order to deal effectively with any condition, one must first learn all one can about it. This is not done as well as it should be when it comes to hearing aids. When people arrive at a hearing aid center, everyone’s focus tends to be on the “product” (the hearing aid) and not the hearing loss or communication problems that brought the person there.
The explicit goal becomes the selection of a hearing aid, with the implicit assumption that this will solve the communication problems. But, while a hearing aid is necessary (no dispute there), it is more often than not, insufficient. In spite of all the claims of the appealing marketing ploys we are continually exposed to, there is more to helping someone with a hearing loss than providing a hearing aid, no matter how advanced it might be. (1)
I have said many times in the past, and will continue to say, that when dealing with hearing loss there are five major areas that need to be addressed—all of them equally important— and hearing aids are only one of the five.
First, a person needs to psychologically and emotionally adjust to being hard of hearing. This includes working through the grieving process in regards to their hearing loss. All of the following steps are of little use if a person doesn’t first do this. Many people try and short-circuit this process—but the end results are dismal—they permanently stuff their hearing aids in dresser drawers; they more and more withdraw from the hearing world; and, wrapped in their own little world, they slip into deep, dark depression. (If you need help dealing with this aspect of hearing loss, see my short book, “Grieving for Your Hearing Loss—the Rocky Road from Denial to Acceptance“. This little book has helped many.
Once you have worked through your grief, and in no particular order—because they can (and should) be done at more or less the same time, are steps 2 through 5.
Second, get properly adjusted hearing aids if your hearing loss is such that hearing aids can help you—and hearing aids can help about 99% of the people with hearing loss.
Third, since hearing aids are not the whole answer, especially when noise and/or distance is involved, get assistive devices (ALDs) that will supplement your hearing aids in these difficult hearing situations. (I just wrote an easy-to-read primer on these wonderful assistive listening devices.)
Fourth, learn to speechread (lipread). Speechreading, when combined with residual hearing, greatly improves your understanding of what was said. This is a most important skill, and one that all hard of hearing people should learn. (If you don’t have speechreading classes locally, don’t despair. You can learn speechreading using the Seeing and Hearing Speech program.)
Fifth, learn all the myriads of coping skills that put the odds in your favor in being able to hear and understand people. They are such simple things as getting close to the speaker, cutting out competing background noise, having light on the speaker’s face, etc. I explain many of these coping strategies in my short book “Talking With Hard of Hearing People— Here’s How to Do it Right!“.
Combining all of the above gives a person the best chance of successfully coping with their hearing loss. So resist the seductive hype of hearing aid manufactures that hearing aids are the whole answer, and utilize these other four important areas when dealing with your hearing loss. You’ll be glad you did!
(1) Excerpted from the article “What Did Your Expect? Hearing Aids—Expectation and Aural Rehabilitation” by Mark Ross, Hearing Loss Magazine. Hearing Loss Association of America, Bethesda, MD. Volume 29, No. 1. Jan-Feb 2008. pp. 21-24.