Hearing loss can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life, and can be a difficult thing to adjust to. Because it can make conversation and social situations difficult, people who are deaf or suffer from hearing loss may experience feelings of isolation or helplessness, which can begin to take a toll on their wellbeing.
Therefore, if you or someone you love is deaf or suffers from hearing loss, it can be useful to gather an understanding of what this really means, and what resources are available to help you manage it, and limit its effect on daily life.
In this article, we’ll cover what can cause hearing loss, where to seek guidance and support, as well how you can handle the emotional impact of hearing loss.
What causes hearing loss?
Hearing loss is fairly common and affects around 40% of people over 50 in the UK. Usually, hearing loss is a gradual process that comes as a result of age, which can sometimes make it harder for people to highlight where issues began. On the other hand, some people are born deaf and will have had to adjust to this their whole lives.
The severity of deafness can range from mild to profound and there are various different causes including illness, genetic defects, injury, and ageing. Deafness at birth is known as congenital hearing loss, while hearing loss after birth is known as acquired hearing loss.
Acquired hearing loss that occurs gradually with ageing is common and can be caused by various factors including exposure to loud noises, trauma to the eardrum, injury, or disease. You can read more about the causes of hearing loss here on the NHS website.
How can I arrange a hearing test?
Symptoms of hearing loss can include finding it hard to keep up with conversations, having to ask people to repeat themselves, and listening to music or watching the TV on a higher volume than other people need.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from hearing loss, then it’s worth booking a hearing test. You can do this by booking an appointment with your GP, or you can arrange a free hearing test at Boots, which is probably the quicker option at the moment. The appointment will take about 15 minutes and will include a check of your general ear health, as well as a hearing screen, where you’ll listen to sounds through headphones and be asked to respond.
If there are any issues with your hearing then the test should identify them, and you can book a full hearing test to find out more. Once you reach the age of 50, it’s generally recommended that you book to have hearing tests every two years.
Alongside hearing tests, you can also read more about other important health checks that you might like to consider in our article 11 important health checks for over 50s.
I have hearing loss - who can I speak to about my options?
While you can’t reverse most types of hearing loss, there are steps that you can take to try and improve your hearing. The more you know and understand about hearing loss, the easier it will be to manage and adjust your life around it. Arranging to speak to a licensed audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist can be useful because they’ll be able to advise you on possible options.
For example, they may recommend treatments such as hearing aids or cochlear implants (small electronic devices that can help improve deaf people’s sense of sound) that can improve your hearing. If your hearing loss is more severe, they may also urge you to consider communication alternatives such as sign language.
They may also point you towards the help of support groups in your area. For example, Hearing Link support groups run activities such as lipreading classes and social events, to unite people with hearing problems. Your doctor or specialist will also be able to advise you on what medical checkups you’ll require in the future, and how often you’ll need them.
What steps can I take to make communication with hearing loss easier?
Getting used to hearing loss isn’t an overnight process and it can take a while to adapt to. In some cases, some people may feel increasingly isolated because social situations are more difficult.
If you or someone you know is struggling with hearing loss, then below are some steps you could consider making some simple adjustments to help communication feel easier.
If you are struggling with hearing loss:
Try to control background noise that can make it harder to hear, for example, the television or washing machine.
Explain to the people you’re socialising with what they could do to help communication easier for you.
If you don’t hear what someone says the first time, don’t panic, just take a deep breath and ask if they could repeat it.
If you’re struggling to understand what people are saying, ask them if they would be happy to write it down for you.
Where possible, sit next to a friend or family member who understands your hearing loss the most.
Take steps to ease any stress or anxiety you may feel as a result of social situations. Remember that hearing loss doesn’t have to control your life and it doesn’t change who you are as a person.
If you know someone struggling with hearing loss:
Make an effort to say the person’s name before you start speaking to them, to make it clearer you want to talk to them.
Speak slowly and clearly rather than raising your voice (as this can actually distort how your words sound, and make it harder to understand what you’re saying).
Make sure that you face towards the person when you’re speaking to them, so they can pick up on mouth movements and gestures.
If you can, try and talk in areas that have good lighting, are quiet, and calm.
Repeat and rephrase calmly if necessary.
Group conversations can be difficult for people with hearing loss, so it can be helpful to try and have just one person speak at a time where possible.
Avoid using phrases such as, “I’ll tell you later”, if a deaf person is unable to hear you. If need be, consider writing it down for them.
How can I avoid hiding or bottling up my feelings about my hearing loss?
Whether you’ve gradually been losing your hearing or have been deaf for a while, hearing loss can be emotional, and it’s completely normal to experience feelings of grief and loss as you begin to adapt.
In many ways, hearing loss is an invisible disability – unlike struggling with mobility for example – which can sometimes make it harder for people to understand how it might be affecting you. For instance, they might not initially pick up on the fact that you’re struggling to communicate at an event, which might make you feel even more frustrated or misunderstood as a result. Similarly, it can also be hard for people having to watch a loved one struggle with hearing loss, as they may feel helpless as to how they can help them. There is more information about how to cope with a loved one’s hearing loss here on Hidden Hearing’s website.
When it comes to coping with the emotional impact of hearing loss, it’s important not to bottle up your feelings if you want to avoid them overwhelming you. Sharing how you feel with somebody else will not only help take some of the weight off of your shoulders, but it’ll also allow people around you to understand how they can help you.
If you have a family member or friend who you trust and feel comfortable being open with, perhaps consider sitting down with them and sharing how you feel. Chances are, they’ll want to do everything they can to help you, and it’ll give you the opportunity to communicate what could make things easier for you. Even if it’s just to get certain thoughts or emotions off of your chest, expressing yourself can often result in a huge sigh of relief.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your feelings with a family member or friend, then you might be interested in joining a support group near you – for example via the LinkUp service offered by Hearing Link. This will allow you to connect with other people who also struggle with hearing loss, which will hopefully remind you that you’re not alone – as well as allowing you to seek advice on useful coping mechanisms.
Other helpful resources for coping with hearing loss
AbilityNet is a registered charity in England and Wales that works to improve the lives of disabled people by helping them use digital technology at home, work, or in education. For example, their My Computer My Way programme offers a step-by-step guide of individual adjustments that can be made to electronic devices such as laptops or phones to make them easier to use.
ATLA (Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults) is a registered charity that aims to create a world where lipreading classes are available to everyone. Individual or group lipreading classes are designed to help people manage their hearing loss. Find out more about classes and how you can book here. Please note that the majority of classes are currently taking place online.
Hearing Link is a UK-wide charity that helps people adapt to the practical and emotional challenges of hearing loss. You can read more about the services they offer here, including their LinkUp feature which connects people living with hearing loss.
For further help and information on coping with hearing loss, you might like to have a browse of this list of useful UK resources from Hearing Link.
Around 40% of people aged over 50 in the UK will experience some form of hearing loss. But often, people may be unsure when, where, and how to ask for help. For example, it may be difficult for them to manage and accept when they’re struggling with hearing loss, especially when facing it for the first time. Similarly, when it affects a person’s ability to communicate, it’s natural for them to experience feelings of frustration, anger, grief and/or loss.
But to limit the impact that hearing loss has on quality of life, there are various options and steps to take that can help make things a little easier. For example, ear specialists and doctors can advise you on the best medical options, support groups can help you connect with other people struggling with hearing loss, and friends and family can help share the emotion and identify ways to make communication easier.
Most importantly, always remember that you’re not alone, and you don’t have to suffer in silence. It’s all about taking little steps and making the most of the various resources and people who are there to help and support you.
If you struggle with hearing loss, what helps you to cope? Or if a loved one has hearing loss, how do you help to support them? Join the conversation on the health section of our community forum, or leave a comment below.