What do a 35-year-old mother, a 58-year-old salesman and a 46-year-old special education teacher have in common?
All these were patients that have a significant hearing loss that they admit negatively affects their day to day living, yet refuse to entertain the notion that they would become hearing aid users. Also, all three of these middle-aged, working, socializing, family people, identify as members of a cultural and religious community that stigmatizes difference and disability- and it is not necessary to identify that community, since that description can and does apply to more than one group of people, from different parts of the country and of all different faiths.
This steadfast defiance to getting help is hard to witness. With all my idealism and altruism as an audiologist, this feels like a personal affront. And to add insult to injury, in all three of these cases, the cost was not even a factor; they were all insured under a plan that would cover high-end hearing aids at no out of pocket expense to the consumer. This is not about sales or revenue streams, but about real people and their everyday lives with a possible solution right in front of them that they are choosing to turn away from.
Thoughts to Ponder:
Often these patients need to be reminded that the struggles they have every day are more consequential to their quality of life and social well-being than wearing a hardly-noticeable ear-worn device would be. The young mother mentioned that there are many times she misses out on the punchline of a joke when she is among friends, or that she does not immediately attend to the needs of her young children! The salesman revealed his view of a hearing aid as a sign of weakness that might negatively influence potential buyers without considering the subtle remarks made by his potential customers that he may be missing. And when the special education teacher said his students might notice the aids and lose respect for him or even mock him, he fails to recognize the classroom murmurs he is probably missing every day.
The hearing loss is often more noticeable than a hearing aid would be.
A hearing aid is not a toy or a gadget, nor simply a consumer device. Had this patient broken a leg, they would wear a cast without hesitation and were a loved one to require medical attention they would jump to do anything they can to help and alleviate some of the symptoms. The use of a hearing aid, when fit appropriately, can greatly increase the patient’s quality of life, decrease fatigue and listening stress, and improve overall communication and socialization! Too often, the fear of detection outweighs the unknown benefits. Whether this stems from ignorance or immaturity, peer pressure or low self-esteem, it is important to know that every patient who claims they are not moving forward due to stigma, are in fact the ones perpetuating that stigma. They are selling not only themselves short, but also all their fellow community members who will come after them.
It is out of compassion, not judgment, that I hope to educate my patients and readers on the benefits of taking action, learning your options, and embracing uncertainty.
-Dr. Lilach Saperstein
Join the conversation:
What are your thoughts on hearing aid stigma?
Does this exist in your community?
What can we do to mitigate stigma around hearing aids and other devices?