Stigma, hearing loss and helping the young
By Yovina Khiroya
I know at least five people under the age of thirty who claim to have ‘bad hearing’. Of these five people, not one of them has ever had a hearing test or sought professional help for their hearing loss.
As an audiologist, 95% of my clients are over the age of 65. It is rare to have a young person walk in and sit down in my office. But if so many young adults claim to have some hearing difficulty, why don’t they seek help? According to The Stigma of Hearing Loss by Margaret Wallhagen there are three reasons why: vanity, ageism and self-perception.
Hearing aids don’t have a great reputation. Many people believe that hearing aids are ugly, uncomfortable, expensive and ineffective. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Hearing aids have improved both aesthetically and functionally in the past thirty years; we’re no longer prescribing huge beige whistling machines to patients. When fitted correctly, hearing aids need not be uncomfortable. It’s not the device that’s the problem, but our ignorance in how to get the most out of it functionally by wearing the right size and having it fitted correctly. Most people can barely feel modern hearing aids. Modern hearing aids also possess sophisticated sound processing technology, which means they rarely whistle. In addition, hearing aids now come in a range of sizes and colours; from invisible ones that size inside the ear canal to sleek, gloss black ones that sit behind the ear and which could easily be mistaken for a Bluetooth device. In regard to cost, hearing aids are expensive, particularly for those between the ages of 26 and 50 who are infrequently eligible for a hearing aid voucher from the government. However, there are a whole host of funding options available which can help ease the cost.
It’s worth noting too that hearing aids are not the only option. There are many different solutions for hearing loss that don’t involve wearing a hearing aid. From learning new communication tactics to other types of assisstive technology. It’s a cliché, but there really is something to suit most people, if not everyone.
You would be forgiven for thinking that hearing loss is just something that effects older people because that is what most people believe, and to be honest, I used to think the same thing. However, in recent times, I’ve being proven wrong. Hearing loss is not an evil monster that targets only old age pensioners. It is something that can affect anyone, of any age, at any time, for any number of reasons. For example, Millie Bobbie Brown, star of Stranger Things, recently revealed she was born with partial hearing loss in one ear. Halle Berry and Gerard Butler are also two “youngish” celebrities, who both live with and manage a hearing loss.
Common causes of hearing loss that affect younger people can include exposure to loud sounds, such as industrial machinery or music, head trauma and illnesses such as meningitis or measles. It is for these reasons that manufacturers of hearing solutions now develop products specifically aimed at the needs for the younger person. For example, hearing aids can now stream directly to your mobile phone and have noise reducing technology to help in social situations.
For some people, seeking help is akin to admitting that something is fundamentally wrong with them. Some young people may fear that if they seek professional help for a hearing loss they might be perceived as being disabled, or weak or stupid. Historically speaking, this negative perception of those with hearing loss was definitely true. In the past young people who experienced a hearing loss were misunderstood and pitied because educators thought they didn’t have the capacity to learn. This is where the phrase ‘deaf and dumb’ derives. Thankfully this is no longer the case. Today, there is more information available to those contemplating seeking help, and the environmental and social causes of hearing loss are better understood by scientists and the community. We have also advanced significantly in a moral sense, and people are no longer excluded or ridiculed, but rather celebrated for their differences.
If you are under the age of 65 and are worried about your hearing, remember it’s OK and important to see professional help. For more information on funding options for hearing aids and where you can have a hearing test visit any of the links below or look up local audiologists in your community.
Links: Assistive Devices // Communication tactics
Image by Kate Disher-Quill