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How hearing loss affects our well-being

Late deafened adults have participated fully in their hearing society within their own social networks. Although they probably never gave it a thought they have always identified as hearing people. So when deafness occurs their very identity is threatened.

We all have needs that help us live a happy and fulfilling life. If any, some or all of these needs aren’t met then depression is often a result. Deafness impacts on all areas and we need to understand how.

According to psychiatrist William Glasser there are five needs. The first is survival and this means shelter and safety. When we are deaf we often feel unsafe even in our own home. particularly at night. We won’t hear someone knock on the door. We wouldn’t hear a fire alarm or a telephone call. If there was a burglar we wouldn’t hear the intrusion. When I lived alone I often found it difficult to sleep because I would never hear if anyone threatened me. As a result my tinnitus often startled me awake with phantom fire alarms and phone calls resulting in broken sleep.

The second need is to feel part of our family, social network and society. This feeling of love and belonging is eroded when we can’t easily communicate. When people laugh at us or worse ignore us because it is too hard to include us in the conversation we become isolated from our social networks. Many people have told me about spouses who refuse to help them with a hearing loss. The very person they love and trust can isolate them.

Our third need is for power and recognition. This need is often fulfilled by our education, job and things such as participation in clubs and the community. One of the hardest things for a hearing impaired person to achieve is a good education and this often means a lower paying job. If deafness occurs later in life it can affect job performance. When unemployment results finding a job is almost impossible. Many late deafened adults are forced to give up their chosen career and pursue something else. I was a piano teacher, worked in the music industry and played easy listening music in restaurants. At the point my deafness became moderate I could no longer work in music and had to change careers. It was hard to get new qualifications when I couldn’t hear the lectures and even harder to go for job interviews to try and persuade someone who didn’t know me that my deafness didn’t impact on my ability.

Once we are deafened it becomes harder to be independent. This lack of freedom impacts on our self-sufficiency. I could not make a simple phone call to make an appointment with a doctor or dentist. When I travelled I couldn’t hear announcements or changes in schedules. I always had to ask for help so I lost my self-sufficiency. I had a loud bell on my phone, two flashing lights, an answering machine and a fax machine. If I was home and in the room, I would know I had a phone call but I couldn’t answer because I wouldn’t understand. After the phone call had finished if there was a message I would phone my brother. I could tell he answered although not understand anything he said. I would say I had a message and could he listen. I held my phone receiver over my answering machine and played the message. After it finished I would hang up. He would write the message and then fax it to me. Once I had the fax, I would answer it to him and he’d phone my caller. (Wow! did Telstra make a lot of money from me - 4 additional phone calls simply because I couldn’t hear to answer.)

Much enjoyment in life comes from our hearing. When we are deaf we miss out on a lot of the fun that is going on around us. There are jokes, flirtations, banter, movies, television and music. My husband flirts with me – if I can’t hear his banter then there is no fun for me (or him). I could always concentrate to hear the telling of a joke, but somehow I always missed the punch line. Repeating a punch line is never funny. I usually just laughed on cue with the others while not knowing why they were laughing.

Deafness impacts on our well-being so understanding how it impacts on all areas of our lives is the first step to avoiding depression.


References:
Dewane, Claudia; DEd, LCSW, Hearing Loss in Older Adults — Its Effect on Mental Health
Social Work Today July/August 2010 Issue Vol. 10 No. 4 P. 18 http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/071510p18.shtml

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