I recently read an article online that sparked my interest in the impact of untreated hearing loss on a non-hearing impaired person in a relationship. We all know that a hearing loss will affect the person who has it but people can easily overlook the impact of the loss on everyone else.
In my practice I regularly perform hearing tests on adults and children who have noticed a problem in how well they hear or how well they understand other people around them. I also regularly perform hearing tests on people who haven’t noticed a problem but are responding to a loved one insisting there is a problem, often reluctantly. Sometimes it is our loved ones who see the problem for what is and help us take that first step. Sometimes our loved ones suffer in silence for far longer than we realize.
It should come as no surprise to most of us that communication is key to maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Whether the relationship is with our spouses, children, parents, friends and even coworkers, a clear line of communication is paramount for maintaining a successful relationship. Imagine trying to converse with your spouse and regularly being told by him or her that you neglected to mention plans that were made for the following weekend. What if that simple request you made to your spouse to pick up milk at the grocery store was not heard and therefore not done? When communication errors are made we may chalk it up to any number of things; selectively listening, purposely ignoring requests, accusations of mumbling or faulty memory (“you must be mistaken, you didn’t tell me that”). Whether any of these are true some of the time or if hearing loss is the culprit, miscommunications or lack of communicating has potential to drive a wedge between even the strongest relationships, over time. Something that once started off as a small problem grows and grows, annoyance and frustration builds up and the communication problems get much worse.
One commissioned survey performed during Better Speech and Hearing month a few years back found that the romantic relationship was reportedly the most harmed by the impacts of hearing loss, followed by friends, then other family members. 54% of survey respondents admitted to feeling frustrated when communicating with someone with untreated hearing loss; other common feelings were annoyance (32%), sadness (23%) and feelings of being ignored (18%). The same survey found men were more likely to suffer from hearing loss. Women were more likely to feel frustrated by their spouses’ hearing loss (37% of women compared to only 26% of men), and women reportedly were less likely to seek help for their own hearing loss (37% of women compared to 57% of men)!
Sadness, frustration and feelings of being ignored are really difficult feelings to face on a daily basis. Now consider that it takes an average of 5-7 years after identifying an aidable hearing loss for an adult to purchase hearing aids to improve their hearing. That is a long time for the non-hearing impaired spouse to suffer with those feelings.
Whenever I discuss a hearing test with a patient that shows a hearing aid may be a viable option for improved hearing, I recommend trying something sooner rather than later. Of course, being ready and committed to working with hearing aids for better hearing is necessary. The impact of the hearing loss on the non-hearing impaired spouse, family or friends occasionally is enough to create the motivation for success with hearing aids. Other times it is not. If you find yourself in a situation where you believe someone you love is experiencing hearing loss, try encouraging them to see a hearing health care provider to get some answers. The sooner a hearing loss is identified, the sooner we can work towards resolving the problems brought on by hearing loss.
~ Survey results were as reported on Audiology Online in the article “America’s Relationships at Risk: 19 Million Adult Relationships are Negatively Impacted by Hearing Loss, Survey Finds”.