Hearing loss is much more common than most realize—affecting an estimated 27 million adults in the United States—and significantly affects personal relationships, according to a new survey released by Cochlear Americas. Respondents with hearing loss report that their relationship with their romantic partner suffered most (35%), followed by relationships with family, friends, and coworkers.
"As someone who has worked in the field for more than 30 years, I have witnessed the devastating effects of hearing loss on husbands and wives, parents and children, and siblings," said audiologist Patricia Chute, professor and chair of the Division of Health Professions, Mercy College (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.). "All too often spouses blame each other's ability to listen when in fact it is truly a hearing problem that is chipping away at their ability to communicate."
Cochlear Americas commissioned the survey during Better Hearing and Speech Month in May. Of the adults who know someone with hearing loss, nearly one in four (23%) say that "someone with hearing loss" is a spouse or significant other. Fifty-four percent of adults who have communicated with someone who appeared not to be listening due to hearing loss said that they find it frustrating—with 32% reporting annoyance. Others say they feel ignored (18%) or experience sadness (23%).
Chute called for increased public awareness of hearing loss and regular audiology screenings. Hearing screening should be part of routine examinations for all ages—especially for those over 40. But hearing loss can happen at any time, she said, and the large number of young people being exposed to high volume through earbuds on cell phones and MP3 players means that the likelihood of early hearing loss is high.
"We need to make sure that our colleagues in related healthcare fields act as referral sources," she said.
The survey found that only 20% of those with hearing loss are familiar with treatment options. Chute pointed to the need to raise awareness of hearing solutions, such as cochlear implants, Baha,™ or hearing aids. She also noted the importance of counseling.
"There are many wonderful diagnostic tools to assist the audiologist in counseling individuals regarding hearing loss and its overall effects on communication," she said. "For example, the SOAC (Significant Others Assessment of Communication) is a questionnaire that takes into account the response to hearing loss from the other person's perspective," and can be used to guide counseling of an individual with hearing loss and his or her family members.
For more information, visit ASHA's audiology Web pages.