In conversations with people outside of audiology*, I often find myself struggling to convey how integral hearing is to our identity as humans, or how complex hearing loss is.
Within my PhD, I explored some of the factors underpinning auditory scene analysis, the brain’s ability to use sounds we hear to build a picture of the world around us. As I sit typing this post, my brain is doing exactly that without any conscious effort. I can hear that the clinic room door is open with the gentle murmur of my colleagues talking further down the corridor over the hum of the PC and the faint sound of traffic. The sounds I hear now are meaningful. If you suddenly muted all this ‘background noise’, I would feel uncomfortable and perhaps even unsafe, disconnected from the world around.
Of course, we haven’t even touched on the impact it has on our communication yet. Helen Keller, who overcame the dual challenges of hearing & vision loss to become a powerful advocate for people with disabilities, remarked that –
“Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.”
This experience of being disconnected is one that I hear in the clinic from patients and from their loved ones, and the impact this has on mental health is now well documented.
A 2013 overview of hearing loss, tinnitus & mental health (Laura Matthews, Action on Hearing Loss), reviewed the research in this area, reporting that hearing loss more than doubles the risk of developing depression alongside increasing the risk of anxiety and other mental health problems.
The review concluded that audiologists, as well as other healthcare professionals, needed to provide a holistic programme of auditory rehabilitation, increase access to mental health services and help people affected by hearing loss to maintain their social networks. More recently, studies have begun to explore how auditory rehabilitation can be improved to address this.
What is the message for us if we have family/friends experiencing hearing loss?
Stop and listen.
Hearing loss, particularly when experienced as an adult can have a huge psychological impact. The evidence is there. The first and most important thing any of us can do is to truly hear what someone is trying to say, without anticipating or judging. Then offer to be with them as they seek the support they require, whether from audiologist, charity or other healthcare professional.
What can you do if hearing loss is making you feel increasingly isolated and low?
Speak to someone.
Reconnecting to people can be a challenge when you have started to isolate yourself but reaching out does make a difference. Gatherings like the Hear to Meet, can connect you with others experiencing hearing loss so you feel a little more comfortable, and social media can help you find communities with shared interests. Action on Hearing loss also has a Living Well section on their website with lots of resources.
If that seems like too much and you are really struggling, then speak to your GP or consider a helpline/listening service (they do email as well).
Remember that audiologist doesn’t just mean hearing technology.
You can book an appointment with one of our audiologists and visit us at the practice to talk. We are here to help with your communication, not simply tests and technology.
We can work with you towards achieving your communication goals, whether that is going out with a friend for coffee or giving a Q&A session to a packed auditorium. We can make referrals to other healthcare professionals for further support.
If you can’t face visiting the practice and attending an appointment yet, try an email. That is ok with us too.
Let me know your thoughts on the above. Are there any tools that you have found useful in remaining connected, despite hearing loss?
Wishing you good health
Look out for my next post… What if I don’t want people to know? The issues around communicating hearing loss.
* I use this term broadly, to encompass individuals who experience hearing loss and their friends & loved ones, as well as hearing care professionals