Arizona Hearing Center October 2019

2627 North Third Street, Ste. 100, Phoenix, AZ 85004 | 14418 West Meeker Blvd., Bldg B, Ste. 102, Sun City West, AZ 85375


602-277-4327 |

How to Talk to Your Patients About Hearing Loss It’s Time for a New Approach

A common misconception about hearing aids is that people are too vain to wear them. I hear this time and time again, usually from everybody but the patients themselves. Sometimes I think family members use the vanity excuse upfront because they don’t want to have a conversation about hearing loss with someone they look up to. The bottom line is we don’t do a great job talking about hearing loss in a familial context, so we find reasons not to talk about it at all. And the discussions we have in a medical context aren’t that much better. Physicians struggle to broach the topic of hearing loss for the same reasons regular folks do. We have created an unusable discourse for treating the issue, where avenues lead to frustration, delay, and hard feelings, so it’s no wonder we don’t pursue them in the first place. I’m willing to bet you’ve heard a patient tell you their hearing loss is solely their own problem. They think since they’re the person impacted by the failing hearing, it’s up to them to decide what to do about it. Conversation over … or maybe not. Perhaps they rely on their spouse to communicate for them outside of the home, so they still function almost as they did before hearing loss. Already, you start to see how hearing loss doesn’t just impact the person who’s suffering from it. Hearing loss affects

everyone who has to interact with the untreated person. If we don’t communicate this to patients, we are doing them a disservice. Another common problem with the way we discuss hearing loss is relying only on real-world experiences rather than using a data-based approach. I’m sure a patient has used this classic discussion-ender with you: “I’m doing just fine.” In terms of communication, they may be, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be tested. Hearing loss isn’t a cognitive condition; it’s an empirical one. Patients aged 60 and over should get an audiogram or, even better, a comprehensive Arizona Hearing Center evaluation to determine the status of their hearing loss. We have the tools to detect hearing loss before it hampers a patient’s ability to communicate effectively. All we have to do is encourage patients to be evaluated. Speaking of tools, we also need to update the way we talk about hearing aids. We think of them as a relic of the days of brick-sized cellphones, but they’ve advanced quite considerably. We now live in a society where wearable technology has no stigma. Walk down the street in a major city, and you’ll see dozens or people wearing AirPods, which are much more conspicuous than most modern hearing aids. Yet somehow, we don’t view these pieces of technology in the same way at all.

A conversation in frustration doesn’t work, but we shouldn’t let it get to the point where loved ones are frustrated with somebody’s hearing loss. We need to have a compassionate, honest conversation with patients about the real nature and treatment of hearing loss. In a world where only 1 in 5 people who could benefit from hearing aids has them, we are obviously not doing a good job addressing this widespread issue. To treat hearing loss better, we first have to find a better way to discuss it. So, let’s start having a different kind of conversation.

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