If there were no need to communicate every day, older adults with hearing loss would have less of a problem. Helen Keller is credited with noting that blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people. And this significant impact of hearing loss on communication and interaction with others can sometimes go unrecognized by healthcare practitioners, leading to stresses on their overall mental health. Coping with hearing loss is different from other disabilities in that it is an “invisible” handicap. The reactions or behaviors associated with hearing loss may not be apparent, and even the sight of a hearing aid doesn’t guarantee recognition of a disability.
A day in the life of a hearing-impaired older adult may include struggles with the following:
hearing alarms or telephones;
understanding someone while talking on the phone;
understanding when several people are talking;
understanding when a speaker’s face is unseen;
understanding speech on TV;
being unaware someone is talking;
understanding in public places;
understanding cashiers or sales clerks;
Adults who have early-onset hearing loss report that, while there are negative aspects of hearing loss, they’ve incorporated them into their personalities. They develop ways to cope with and manage hearing loss in their daily lives, and this eventually has an impact on their mental health as well.
As a result, hearing loss may trigger an identity crisis, and reactive depression may occur.
Hearing loss can create a psychological solitary confinement. Yet many older adults with hearing loss deny the disability or the impact it exerts on their quality of life. The average delay in seeking help following a diagnosis of hearing loss is five to seven years. Thus, a practitioner working with older adults experiencing hearing loss may need to ascertain the individual’s stage of acceptance, as well as the location along the cultural continuum. It’s important that family members understand these often overlooked dynamics of a loved one who suffers from hearing loss, in the hope that they will help the individual seek hearing health care quickly. The sooner that professional treatment is implemented, the sooner an individual will regain aspects of his or her mental health, and lessen the overall impact of hearing loss.