Effective communication starts and ends
with all parties being able to hear one another.
In the United States, only one in every four individuals who experience hearing loss and could benefit from hearing aids actually wear the devices. Obviously, the choice to not wear a hearing aid impacts the ability to communicate, engage, and enjoy the same quality of life if the hearing loss was effectively addressed. The choice to not seek treatment for hearing loss is up to the individual and they are the ones who are most impacted by their decision. Yet they are not the only ones who are affected. What about family, friends, colleagues, and loved ones who interact with the individual who cannot hear them but has chosen to not wear a hearing aid or seek treatment? Hearing loss is most personally experienced by the individual but without intervention, it has a ripple effect on others and one of those ripples can include negative impacts on relationships.
As we approach the annual St. Valentine’s Day, a holiday that is recognized for acknowledging those we love and care about, the subject of relationships and communication comes to the fore. Yet, for many, the underlying issue of hearing loss can negatively or positively affect relationships depending upon the choices that are made.
Hearing Loss and Relationships
Close to half (44%) of individuals 55 years of age and older report that their romantic relationships have suffered because one or both individuals suffer from hearing loss. However, 53% report a positive impact on their relationship with the addition of hearing aids. Sustainable relationships are founded on strong communication, and effective communication starts and ends with all parties being able to hear one another.
Lou Ferrigno is one of the world’s most recognized individuals with hearing loss. Ferrigno, the world champion bodybuilder, and actor who played the original Incredible Hulk was born with an 85% loss of hearing. Yet despite the powerful build and persona that Ferrigno represented, as he aged, he recognized that his progressive hearing loss was negatively impacting his family. Ferrigno had worn hearing aids for decades but as his hearing declined, he realized he needed more volume and clarity. “It was hard to hear my kids talking,” he explained in an interview. “I was not paying attention to them because I couldn’t understand them and they thought I was rejecting them.”
Ferrigno ultimately made the decision to have a cochlear implant in order to hear with more clarity and rejoin the conversation. His family connections were immediately restored as he was able to engage and participate in conversations. “My only regret is that I didn’t do it 10 years earlier,” he explained of the cochlear implant.
Untreated Hearing Loss Can Lead to Cognitive Disabilities
The majority of individuals who experience hearing loss feel uncomfortable about discussing the impact their hearing loss has on relationships. When untreated, hearing loss can cause communication barriers that ultimately lead to problems and potential breakdowns in relationships. Untreated hearing loss has been associated with cognitive disabilities as well. For example, studies have shown that individuals with untreated hearing loss are 2.4 times more likely to develop cognitive conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Often referred to as ‘brain atrophy’, the lack of hearing and engagement in the world has been directly related to a withdrawal from society and a regression of cognitive abilities. The lack of hearing often leads to higher rates of depression and social withdrawal. Individuals who cannot hear and engage in conversations can become increasingly stressed, agitated, and either unwilling or incapable of participating in the activities around them. These ‘side effects’ of untreated hearing loss undoubtedly have an impact on every relationship the individual with hearing loss has.
The Negative Impacts of Untreated Hearing Loss on a Relationship
- Frustration between all parties.
- Resentment due to partners and loved ones having to compensate, translate and/or interpret for their loved one’s hearing loss.
- Loneliness from hearing partners who feel that they are missing out on companionship
- Withdrawal from social activities and interactions.
- Decrease in intimate communication, subtle jokes, and nuances.
- Communication difficulties.
- Decrease in shared activities such as watching TV, movies and/or sports.
- Loss of companionship.
- Decrease in communication because words are kept to a minimum.
Being in an equal and equitable relationship, whether it is with family, friends, colleagues, or a spouse or partner requires understanding, openness, and a balance of communication. Oftentimes, hearing loss is accumulative and therefore can get subtly, yet substantially, worse over time. Talking with a loved one whose hearing has gotten progressively worse, or having someone approach you about your hearing loss is negatively impacting those around you can be difficult. Professionals can also experience patients who are resistant to the notion of wearing a hearing aid or hesitant about considering a cochlear implant. Below are some suggestions to consider when having a conversation about the negative impacts of untreated hearing loss.
3 Steps to Proactively Discussing Hearing Loss
Talk with them about how their untreated hearing loss is affecting you.
If your loved one is concerned about wearing a hearing aid because of how it may look or what others may think, ask them how it looks to continually ask people to repeat themselves.
Talk with them about the bigger health concerns.
Science and studies have proven that untreated hearing loss leads to brain atrophy and cognitive decline. If a hearing aid can help to prevent dementia, ask your loved one if they would consider wearing a hearing aid for their own health, longevity, and quality of life.
Talk with them about your own health and quality of life.
When your partner cannot hear or engage, it results in additional stress and worry which can lead to anxiety. When hearing loss has gone untreated and there are ways to improve the quality of hearing, resentment can build within the people around them.
While largely preventable, once hearing loss occurs – and progresses – the most important thing is to have a professional evaluate the problem. In most situations, hearing loss can be improved by the addition of a hearing aid and in some cases a cochlear implant. Having hearing loss treated will not only maintain a good quality of life but it will also help to maintain relationships.