October 15, 2020. In a recent virtual presentation via Zoom to one medical professional group, the question was asked…. ‘why do people hide their hearing loss’? It was a reasonable question. With hearing loss the third most common chronic condition after arthritis and high blood pressure (and how many have all three conditions?), only hearing loss is routinely ignored and hidden…. even in these pandemic times!
Some of the reasons include:
- Perceived stigma
- Fear that it will make one less employable or reduce chances of promotion
- Fear of loss of independence
- Refusal to accept condition
Cost of hearing aids is another reason given, but that is a different issue. Somehow we manage to find solutions to the things that are important to us, and addressing hearing loss is no different.
Anyone who has hearing loss, or knows someone with hearing loss, can understand the desire to ‘fit in’, easily enough done at a brief glance as there is nothing glaringly obvious to distinguish a person with hearing loss. When I worked, I kept quiet about my hearing loss…. hiding in plain sight, so to speak. Only a very few people knew about it… and on a need to know basis.
My daily routine was spent trying to control my environment so I had the best chance of hearing. When I taught adult education classes, I insisted on using a microphone … ‘so everyone could hear’… and all questions from students had to be done through a microphone. It turned out there were lots of people with ‘hidden’ hearing loss who came up afterwards to say how grateful they were!
When I went to presentations or seminars, even meetings, I ALWAYS arrived early…. to choose the most optimum place to sit.
At receptions, I found a spot with a wall behind me and spent my time circulating in that area. My husband was in the diplomatic service, and there were a lot of receptions…. and many people too shy to venture into the centre of the room. I met a lot of people who were not afraid to start speaking to one person. Maybe they had hearing loss too… I don’t know as it was never discussed.
Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have worn a hard of hearing pin like I do now. I wouldn’t publicly write anything about hearing loss, or give an interview on the subject. Times have changed, luckily. Here on Prince Edward Island, retired volunteers, like myself, work to bring awareness of hearing accessibility issues to the forefront. No one should have to go through the steps we did in order to maintain a viable career.
It’s crazy to hide a condition that affects so many of us. A Canadian Health Measures Survey estimated that 54% of Canadians aged 40 to 79 (8.2 million) had at least mild hearing loss in the high-frequency range based on audiometric testing….but only 6% were aware of this. (See https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2019008/article/00002-eng.htm)
One positive outcome from the pandemic is that the need for hearing accessibility is not hidden. Lots of people are discovering that it’s not easy to understand what is being said in a world of masks that cover one’s mouth, and the increasingly prevalent Plexiglas barriers in stores and reception/registration desks. (For a discussion on whether these barriers achieve what we think they do, see https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/plexiglas-shields-are-everywhere-but-it-s-not-clear-how-much-they-help-1.5143208)
Now, we are learning that one of the side effects for those unfortunate enough to get Coronavirus is hearing loss and tinnitus. Coronavirus can cause blood clots in a person’s body, and studies indicate that blood clots in the very small blood vessels of the inner ear may be one cause of sudden hearing loss. (See https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/mom-loses-hearing-in-one-ear-after-mild-covid-19-infection-1.5140815)
People are encouraged to wear clear-window masks but not enough members of the general population do, unfortunately. We are getting a good response from the trial of clear-window masks for medical professionals, but we can only dream of getting an outcome like in the UK, where the same masks used here for our trial are now used for front-line health workers. (See https://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingnewswatch/2020/uk-nhs-clear-face-mask-hearing-loss/)
Need a hard of hearing pin or a clear-window face mask? Reusable and washable clear-window face masks, made here on the Island, available in a variety of colours and patterns, or a hard of hearing pin, can be ordered here: https://form.jotform.com/201983720272252.
Do you have an experience or tip to share? If so, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, comment on the blog, or tweet to @HearPEI.
© Daria Valkenburg