Hearing loss is a common condition. Over 50 million Americans have hearing loss, and this includes and 60% of our returning veterans. More individuals have hearing loss than the combined number of those with diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autism and osteoporosis altogether. But despite the high incidence of this condition but there is still a social stigma attached.
A recent study conducted by Hear-it AISBL found that 43% of those with hearing loss were somewhat embarrassed about their situation, and 28% were very embarrassed. It explains why it takes people an average of seven years to seek treatment once they first recognize a problem. Meanwhile, within this seven-year period, many individuals go out of their way to conceal it — to ignore or deny it.
Why is there a larger stigma over hearing loss than than vision or mobility issues? There are several reasons why this is the case.
The roots of shame
The main stigma around hearing loss revolves around three ideas: changes in self-perception, ageism, and vanity. This is according to Margaret I. Wallhagen, PhD who looked at these ideas in her research published in 2009. Let’s explore each one in turn.
- They see themselves differently
People with hearing loss see their bodies (and by extension their identities) changing, which can be hard to take. They may concentrate on the difference between their former self and their present self, seeing themselves as ‘weaker’, or less able than in the past. Some did not want to be branded “disabled,” for example, so they may delay a visit to an audiologist, which prevents them having to face these difficult truths.
- They feel old
Many individuals equate hearing with aging. They may discover it hard to relate, or feel marginalized by their younger peers at work. Furthermore, people may find that their hearing loss reminds them that they are getting older, which is an inconvenient truth that everyone has to grapple with.
- They feel unattractive
Finally, some individuals were afraid they could appear unattractive by treating their hearing with a hearing aid. They are concerned that the technology that might draw attention to their ears and highlight their hearing loss, making them appear less of a ‘catch’. This reason may be especially powerful for those who are currently looking for a partner.
Aside from Wallhagen’s work, there are some other reasons that people might be ashamed of their hearing loss.
- They don’t want to be seen as slow
Nobody else can see a person’s hearing loss, which means no one will make concessions for the them. Individuals with hearing loss therefore run the risk of appearing dumb or slow when they respond incorrectly or repeat something just said by someone else.
- They don’t want to appear rude
Finally, people with hearing loss often feel like they’re being rude if they fail to hear someone call their name or if they are always asking someone to repeat themselves. Rather than have to explain something as personal as their hearing loss to people they barely know, it’s easier to retreat from conversations altogether.
The consequences of a secret hearing loss
Whatever the reason for a person refusing to reveal their hearing impairment, the irony is that by refusing to acknowledge a hearing loss, they may eventually end up making themselves even less independent than they currently are.
The effects of untreated hearing loss include a reduced brain signal quality (leading to greater cognitive load), a shrinkage of the part of the brain responsible for processing sound, social isolation, and health problems such as dementia, depression, fatigue, and anxiety.
We humans are innately social animals and treating hearing loss helps us to maintain this ability to be social, automatically lowering the risk of all the conditions mentioned above.
Roseville Diagnostic Hearing Center
Although hearing loss can be embarrassing, if you have hearing loss, you owe it to yourself to take charge of your hearing, for you and the people you care about. For all kinds of hearing loss and lifestyle requirements, we have a range of hearing solutions available. Please contact us for a consultation if you need assistance selecting the correct one for you.