Getting diagnosed with hearing loss can be a life-changing moment. For some, the news may not be a big deal: a person may have come to terms with their hearing loss for some time and is ready to do something about it. For others, the words, “You have (hearing loss type) hearing loss” may hit like a ton of bricks — leaving them immobilized by distress.
After all, our senses play a part in every facet of our lives — family, social activities, work, and simply being. One person we spoke with expressed feeling like they lost a part of themselves, wondering, Who am I now, without my hearing?
Or perhaps you feel shaken by the stigma that associates hearing aids with people beyond your age, and suddenly feel like life is speeding up on you. Another person, diagnosed at middle-age, added that societal pressure to stay youthful did not help, either: “You work so hard, trying not to be viewed as a ‘dinosaur’, and then this,” they remarked.
As with any significant loss, you may also feel powerless — with the realization that your diagnosis is irreversible, and life will no longer be as it was.
These are only a few examples of the many thoughts and feelings you may encounter after being diagnosed with hearing loss. But what they have in common is that they are all part of grieving what you’ve lost.
Some mourn their hearing loss. Some don’t. But if you do, remember that it is completely normal.
Five stages of grieving hearing loss
People who grieve their hearing loss may do so in correspondence with the well-known five stages of grief, founded by the late Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Originally developed to assist people with terminal illness, the five stages have since become a widespread tool for understanding grief overall.
Let’s explore the five stages of grief for hearing loss. You may experience these in any order; or only some of them; or none at all. They include:
- Denial — You may blame others for being unable to hear clearly, or not realize you have hearing loss until it’s brought to your attention.
- Anger — You may feel anger or unfairness over your hearing loss and direct it toward others.
- Bargaining — You may recognize your hearing loss but feel it isn’t permanent — even create bargains with yourself or others to restore your hearing, or to be “OK” with the loss.
- Depression — You may feel sadness over the loss of your hearing, which can contribute to a lower self-esteem and increased isolation from others.
- Acceptance — You may feel ready to admit you have hearing loss — and explore treatment.
Note: Definitions of each stage may vary from person to person.
A hearing care professional’s take on grieving hearing loss
We spoke with Jamie Hand, Doctor of Audiology and subject matter expert at Starkey, about her experience working with patients who were grieving their hearing loss diagnosis, and how hearing care professionals typically help patients through the grieving process.
What has been your typical experience with patients and grieving?
Jamie Hand, Au.D. — As an audiologist, I typically see grieving during the first appointment with a patient when they receive their hearing evaluation results. In that setting, grief doesn’t usually present as mourning or sadness, but rather the other stages of grief like denial, anger, and bargaining.
Hearing loss is invisible, so it’s hard for some people to accept it the first time they are told they have a hearing loss. Hearing care professionals typically see patients going through denial at this point. People will say things like, “I don’t think my hearing is that bad yet” or “If everyone would stop mumbling…”
I have also encountered the bargaining stage of the grieving process with patients ranging from moderate to severe hearing loss, who try over-the-counter or PSAP (personal sound amplification product) hearing devices that do not provide sufficient gain for their hearing loss.
If a patient is working through accepting their hearing loss, hearing care professionals usually won’t see them again until they are ready to accept help. Some patients might experience a second wave of emotions once they have hearing aids that’s a mixture of happiness and regret that they didn’t get hearing aids sooner.
In your experience, has age or stage in life played a role with grieving?
Jamie Hand, Au.D. — Not necessarily. I’ve witnessed all ages and genders go through it, from children to adults. I’ve also seen the added grief and strain untreated hearing loss can cause family members and loved ones. There are certainly different personal reasons why each patient is grieving. Perhaps it’s because they feel like they’ll be different from others at work or school; their parent or grandparent had hearing aids and it makes them feel older; they’re worried what the hearing aids look like, and so on.
How does the hearing care professional support the patient?
Jamie Hand, Au.D. — Hearing care professionals are trained to first listen to the patient’s experience and aim to understand the underlying stress or fear they’re facing. Oftentimes, merely offering a listening ear helps our patients move through the grieving process.
We walk a fine line when a patient is grieving their hearing loss, as most people wait an average of 4 years after experiencing hearing loss symptoms before they seek a hearing evaluation, and the deleterious effects of untreated hearing loss on your overall health are numerous. So, it’s a delicate conversation to first understand what the patient is feeling, while encouraging them to not wait another year, five years, etc. to seek help.
What advice would you give someone who is grieving their hearing loss and has yet to seek treatment?
Jamie Hand, Au.D. — Communication is a two-way street: The people around you struggle to communicate with you because of your hearing loss too — so, it is not only affecting you. In a similar vein, “Your hearing loss is more noticeable than hearing aids” is often a light switch moment for patients. These tough conversations we have with our patients, with the encouragement of their families/loved ones, are when we can usually get to the point of acceptance. In other cases, unfortunately, acceptance comes from an instance where the person with hearing loss felt isolated or embarrassed by their hearing loss, which leads them to accepting help. I would, of course, caution against waiting to that point. Early intervention is key to keep you hearing and living your life to the fullest.
How to move forward from hearing loss grief
Remember, it’s more than OK and completely normal to grieve your hearing loss diagnosis. But you don’t have to remain stuck forever. Your hearing care professional can help you find your way through — and hear better than ever with the hearing you do have. So you’ll never have to miss another moment with the people you love, or doing what you love, because of hearing loss.
Your best life still awaits. Reach out to your hearing care professional today.
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