Hearing Aids, Stigma and Your Clients: Working Toward Modern Solutions

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Mark Paton//Unsplash

There should be no shame for patients in using any form of medical prosthesis or aid. With modern technology at our fingertips, physical aids enable the practitioner to assist their clients back to quality of life. Despite the life-changing possibilities of hearing aids, there’s an undeniable stigma that’s still attached to wearing them. How can a responsible practitioner help guide their patient to the best solution for them while still being mindful of these feelings?

Understanding the stigma of hearing loss

Regrettably, there are still health conditions that carry significant stigma among patients and the people around them alike. A range of respected studies suggest hearing loss still ranks highly among these. While it’s perfectly possible to live well with hearing loss, social and self-stigma could be the biggest obstacle facing your patient, not their actual condition or its prognosis. This is a key part of a phenomena referred to as the Sociological Determinants of Health, in fact.

As a medical practitioner, it’s easy to focus on helping the patient find the perfect hearing aid to address the physical aspects of their diagnosis. After all, this is where your expertise lies. In doing so, however, we can lose track of another important aspect of any hearing loss diagnosis: the patient’s emotions. 

Living well with hearing loss

Before you can begin identifying the best hearing solutions with your patients, they will need to process, recognize, and accept the underlying hearing loss. No matter how sophisticated the hearing aid they select is, there will be times of the day where they cannot wear it. Their ability to be at peace with their hearing issues will be a key part of how effectively they rehabilitate from their initial diagnosis. It is also strongly indicative of how well they will adhere to any follow-up care you require of them. It can even influence if the hearing aids will be worn at all. 

It’s highly likely, especially among younger patients, that issues of shame and damaged self-esteem will arise at first diagnosis. No hearing aid alone will solve these issues. They can even exacerbate them. Sadly, without resolution, or at least a strong dedication to working on these mental aspects, the patient will not be in a position to fully embrace life with their hearing aid. It will also inhibit them (and you) from identifying further audiologic rehabilitation they require. Without this, they will not feel they are participating fully and actively in their life again.

Steps you can take as their primary practitioner

While much of this is work the patient will need to undertake outside of your control, it doesn’t mean you cannot assist with their journey. For patients who show signs of uneasiness with their diagnosis, it’s important to encourage them to seek assistance in processing these complicated emotions, and to normalize doing so. This is a big life change, and it’s normal for them to feel trepidation.

Be willing to entertain aesthetic questions when discussing hearing aids with them. The primary concerns are the client’s budget and the needs of their particular diagnosis. Yet issues like fit, comfort, and discretion are also key parts of the experience for the patient. These factors will affect your patient’s compliance with wearing the unit. Reassurance that their prosthetics can also be unnoticeable, discrete, unintrusive, stylish, and fit into their life without embarrassment will help offset self-stigma and encourage acceptance. 

While conquering self-stigma around wearing hearing aids does lie primarily with the patient, a caring practitioner can make space to help them through it. From considering the fit and invisibility of the prosthetic through to encouraging the patient to work with their emotions healthily, creating positive acceptance can easily be integrated with standards of best-practice in a modern audiological practice.

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