Hearing loss is completely natural, especially as we age. Unfortunately, in our society, there’s also a stigma attached to hearing loss, perpetrated by advertisers, the public, and even those with hearing loss themselves.
Due to the negative connotation surrounding hearing loss, people who struggle with this condition may avoid seeking treatment. They may believe that a hearing aid would make them look older, weaker, or less capable.
However, when hearing loss is left untreated, it will not only persist but may also lead to cognitive decline, social disengagement, and a variety of serious health issues. If you are postponing treatment or refusing to acknowledge your hearing loss altogether, you are placing both your physical and mental health at risk.
Self-Perception, Ageism, and Vanity
Although many factors are involved in the stigma surrounding hearing loss, most revolve around three ideas: self-perception, ageism, and vanity. Margaret I. Wallhagen, Ph.D., explored these ideas in a study published in 2009.
According to Wallhagen, people suffering from hearing loss sometimes see themselves differently from the rest of the world by focusing on the contrast between their former self and their current self: “being whole versus not whole, able versus disabled, and smart versus cognitively impaired.” To avoid this stigma, some people avoid visiting an audiologist or simply pretend the issue isn’t there.
Similarly, many people associate hearing with aging and ageism. Ageism is a form of discrimination that is based on a person’s age. People with hearing loss might find it difficult to relate to their younger friends or relations or feel ostracized. Also, because hearing loss is strongly associated with aging, people may find that their hearing aid reminds them that they’re getting older, which is an uncomfortable fact of life for everyone.
Finally, some people fear that wearing a hearing aid might make them appear unattractive by looking bulky or drawing attention to their hearing loss.
According to an article published in The Gerontologist, “the concept of stigma is not an individual experience; it is only relevant within the framework of relationships and the ways in which society reacts to and treats those who are stigmatized.” Stigmas are driven by societal expectations.
Hearing aid advertisements are partially to blame. According to the article titled “The Stigma of Hearing Loss,” by highlighting the small size and discreet positioning of hearing aids, advertisers are implying that hearing aids, and thus hearing loss, is shameful and should be hidden.
To combat this stigmatization, advertisers should showcase the value of improved hearing and communication by depicting people of different age groups. This would emphasize the benefits of hearing aids and the fact that hearing loss affects people of all ages.
As social beings, the opinions of those around us (whether it’s your spouse, children, friends, or coworkers) certainly matter. However, you shouldn’t let this fear of ostracization influence your decisions regarding your hearing health. Many people simply don’t understand the challenges faced by those with hearing loss and the benefits of effective treatment.
For example, if your partner expresses a negative attitude toward hearing aids, you may choose not to visit an audiologist to address your hearing loss. On the other hand, a supportive environment may assist you with hearing loss, helping you to move forward, explore treatment options, and wear hearing aids without feeling judged or stigmatized.
The Impact of the Stigma of Hearing Loss
Despite the prevalence of hearing loss (roughly about 15% of American adults), people still suffer from the stigma. When people feel ashamed of their hearing loss, they may refuse to acknowledge it, which can lead to disruptions in their treatment.
Even after visiting a doctor, a person might reject hearing aids because they don’t want to look old. Some view these medical devices as a sign of weakness or a handicap. Unfortunately, failure to seek treatment can have long-term consequences, including social disengagement, behavioral changes, brain issues, depression, or even dementia.
Fighting the Stigma
The key to fighting the stigma is education. The more we learn about hearing loss, the more obvious it becomes that treatment is safe and socially acceptable. Hearing aids don’t make you look old—constantly asking people to repeat themselves is more of a frustration. Hearing aids can help you maintain your social connections and even your career.
Modern hearing aids are designed to be as inconspicuous as possible. Some options include completely-in-the-canal (CIC) or receiver-in-the-ear (RITE). Both designs are so well-designed most people won’t even notice them.
Some devices can even connect to your smartphone, making them exceptionally convenient. When you need to reach the control center for your hearing aid, you’ll look like you’re just using your cell phone.
Seek Help Today
If you’ve been avoiding a hearing test, you’re not alone. According to Johns Hopkins, only one in seven Americans with hearing loss use a hearing aid. Why suffer years of strained relationships, missing out on the world around you, and risking health issues from untreated hearing loss—that’s far too long.
Remember: treating hearing loss is critical to your current and future health. Instead of hiding from it, do your part to reverse the stigma. Take the time to visit an audiologist and encourage others to do the same.
If you are experiencing hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, or another auditory issue, please contact Sound Relief Hearing Center in Colorado and Arizona. We’re committed to helping people control and conquer their hearing issues. To learn more about us, please browse our website, visit our Youtube channel, or give us a call at 720-344-7600. You can also schedule an appointment online to meet with one of our audiologists. We look forward to hearing from you!
At Sound Relief Hearing Center, we provide hope and help to those living with tinnitus and other hearing health issues. Our patients are at the center of everything we do, and we strive to guide them to overcome their challenges by delivering innovative and compassionate healthcare.
Dr. Julie Prutsman, owner of this family-owned practice, has expanded to 8 locations across Colorado and Arizona. In 2012, she founded Sound Relief in her hometown of Highlands Ranch, Colorado and continues to foster their mission through mentorship of the brightest minds in the field of Audiology.