First Things First: How hearing loss affects relationships

First Things First: How hearing loss affects relationships

August 30th, 2019 by Julie Baumgardner in Life Entertainment

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Think hearing loss really doesn't have an impact on your relationships? You might want to think again.

Lorina knew that she had some hearing loss, but didn't really think it was that big a deal. That is, until a good friend encouraged her to get her hearing checked.

"I knew over the years my hearing loss had increased, but it wasn't until my friend pointed out to me that I was constantly saying, 'What?' and 'Huh?' and strongly encouraged me to get my hearing tested that I thought it might really be a thing," says Lorina.

The results of Lorina's hearing screening showed moderate hearing loss on one side and severe loss on the other side.

"When I was fitted with a hearing aid, I was amazed!" Lorina says. "I could not believe the difference in the clarity of people's words and the sounds I was able to hear that I had no idea I was missing. It even impacted my relationship with my husband."

"We hear stories like Lorina's all the time at the Speech and Hearing Center," says Erica Newman, president and CEO. "In fact, just the other day, I was reading a study about the impact of hearing loss on marriage."

Embarrassment and frustration were the words used most frequently in the study to describe how hearing loss impacted their relationships. One spouse would say, "I'm listening, but I can't hear you," and the other spouse would say, "I can hear you, but I can't understand you."

"The No. 1 thing the study found that changed in marriages where someone experienced hearing loss was spontaneity," Newman says. "The spouse with the hearing loss felt embarrassed when they had to ask people to repeat themselves because they associated it with being slow-witted and disturbing to the flow of normal conversation, so they just didn't say anything. They found themselves wondering, 'If I have to repeat myself three times, is it worth saying?' Little side comments, a spontaneous exchange or funny off-the-cuff conversations stopped happening. This impacts closeness in the relationship and undermines confidence, intimacy, sharing and playfulness. It also impacts shared activities such as watching television together."

A 2009 British study found that out of 1,500 people surveyed with hearing loss, 44% reported that their hearing loss caused relationships with important people in their lives to suffer. Additionally, 34% reported the breakdown in communication brought about the loss of relationships, including marriage.

"Often when I am at a health fair, a spouse will walk up to me and point out their spouse, saying, 'He/she needs to come see you, but I can't get them to make an appointment,'" Newman says. "My response to them, and to everybody, is we all need to have our hearing checked at age 50 so people have a baseline to work from."

When Lorina finally did get hearing aids and was able to hear all that she had been missing, she says it rocked her world.

"I have spent most of my life having people only on my left side because that was my good ear," Lorina says. "Now I can have people on either side of me. We have also turned the television way down. I had no idea we had the volume cranked up so high. One of the funniest things that happened after getting my hearing aids was when I had my son in the car with me and I noticed a rattle in the back of my car. When I said something about it, he said, 'Mom, it's been there forever!'"

"I know getting your hearing checked can be scary, but the people I see on a regular basis who finally agreed to get a hearing aid often look at me and lament that they wish they had done it sooner," Newman says. "Their quality of life improves and their relationship with their loved ones is better as well."

Communication is key in building and maintaining relationships. Anything that hinders it can create loss of connectedness and intimacy. Hearing loss is often easy to deal with and improve with a little effort and the help of others who can see or hear things you cannot. Don't let fear or stubbornness put a damper on your relationships or cause you to miss out on what is going on around you.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at julieb@firstthings.org.


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