Prevent Social Distancing from Masking Hearing Loss
May is National Better Hearing Month and the American Academy of Audiology is encouraging the public to contact an Audiologist if they are concerned about hearing loss in themselves or loved ones. Mild to moderate hearing loss is difficult to recognize, and many people do not feel it is an issue that rises to the level of seeking medical attention for. Mild hearing loss increases the effort required to listen, miscommunication, and both emotional and physical fatigue. If left unaddressed, hearing loss can lead to an irreversible decline in speech understanding, even with future use of amplification. We have all asked “what?!” a few times or asked for repetition, but in some cases, it becomes all too easy to brush off and blame other factors on trouble hearing.
Activity restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19 have created an environment for hearing loss to go unrecognized in both children and adults. While age is still a leading factor in hearing loss, many more young people are experiencing hearing problems due to loud noise and music exposure. People who live in dense, urban areas with vast public transit systems may be more likely to experience noise-induced hearing loss at younger ages due to repeated exposure to loud noise over time.
In children, poor performance in school may indicate that a child had difficulty understanding his or her teacher’s lessons or assignments. With an increase in remote, at-home learning during our current crisis, many parents are creating naturally advantageous hearing environments. They are providing their children with a familiar speaker, direct attention, and closer seating to the source of sound. With these positive hearing conditions and less performance reviews, a mild or even unilateral hearing loss may be missed more easily. It is important for parents and family members to look for signs of easy distraction and temperament changes in children to continue to assess hearing difficulty at home during this period.
For adults, COVID-19 has rendered us homebound, with a dramatic decline in social interactions that typically present natural hearing challenges. With less group conversations, family gatherings, and background noise, our daily listening environments are slower and calmer. The most challenging listening environments, such as restaurants, theaters, bars, and movies are all closed for the time being, which presents increased opportunity for mild hearing loss to be overlooked. If you are home, it is more important than ever to assess the hearing ability of yourself and loved ones. To do this, it’s valuable to familiarize yourself with the Health Belief Model (HBM), which is a theoretical model developed in the early 1950s that has become a guide for health promotion and disease prevention programs.
Following are the six HBM constructs that will help in assessing readiness to pursue or refer a family member for hearing healthcare intervention.
Ask yourself these questions, and do not let physical distancing guidelines prevent you from seeking the help of a professional during this unprecedented time.
I. Perceived Susceptibility: Do I have a genetic predisposition, medical condition, or history of noise-exposure that puts me at greater risk for hearing loss?
II. Perceived Severity: Does hearing loss put me at increased risk for cognitive decline, social isolation, and falls?
III. Perceived Benefits: Will pursuing hearing help keep me happy and actively engaged with my work, hobbies, and communication partners?
IV. Perceived Barriers: Will the positive benefits of amplification and counseling be worth the effort and cost?
V. Perceived Efficacy: Will I be able to manage the physical aspects of treating my hearing loss, such as wearing or using an assistive hearing device?
VI. Cue to Action: Will counseling help improve remote conversations with family and friends? Will hearing help improve my work performance and quality of life at home?