Talking about Hearing Loss: Why Your Disclosure Method Matters

Talking about Hearing Loss: Why Your Disclosure Method Matters

Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D. Communication, Family & Friends, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Tips & Tricks

Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D.

Beverly Hills Hearing Center was founded in 1983 by Bonnie Baehr. Prior to that, Dr. Baehr practiced at the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles as a staff audiologist for seven years. She was involved with diagnostic testing, hearing aid evaluations, research and rehabilitation. Dr. Baehr did her clinical fellowship training at the Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic in downtown Los Angeles. She is a member of the American Academy of Audiology, American Speech Language and Hearing Association, California Academy of Audiology and Academy of Doctors of Audiology. Bonnie enjoys hiking in her free time.
Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D.

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The way you choose to reveal your hearing loss may have a significant impact on how you communicate with others.  A study reveals three different strategies to reveal your hearing loss to others. Researchers recommend educating people with hearing loss about these different strategies to improve the experience of disclosing their hearing loss. Massachusetts Eye and Ear researchers surveyed 337 patients with hearing loss to better understand the language people use with others to disclose their disability. Their findings, published online in the journal Ear and Hearing on October 28, 2015, have been used to develop resources for health care professionals to provide their patients with strategies to disclose hearing loss successfully and effectively in interactions with others.

“Health care providers are in a key position to help patients learn how to disclose their hearing loss,” said senior author Konstantina M. Stankovic, M.D Ph.D., FACS, an otologic surgeon and researcher at Mass. Eye and Ear and an associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School. “We can educate them on the disclosure strategies we report on in our study, which may help them gain the confidence they need to disclose their hearing loss and improve communication with others.”

Disclosure Methods

The researchers created a survey designed to gather the actual phrases that patients have used to let others know that they have a hearing disability. One of the authors, Jessica S. West, M.P.H a sociologist at Duke University, analyzed the respondents’ answers and codified the responses into three major categories, formalizing these strategies for verbally addressing hearing loss for the first time:

Basic disclosure

This method of disclosure describes those who disclose that they have hearing loss and perhaps also share details about their condition.
Example: “I have trouble hearing due to all the rock and roll shows I used to go to”

Nondisclosure
Nondisclosure describes those who do not disclose their hearing loss and/or use phrases that normal hearing people may use.
Example: I can’t hear you. Please speak up.

Multipurpose disclosure
Multipurpose disclosure describes those who disclose hearing loss and also suggest a strategy to accommodate their disability.
Example: I don’t hear as well out of my right ear. Please walk on my left side.

Women are more successful explaining their hearing loss

The study also found that women with hearing loss were more than twice as likely as men to explain the condition to others in a way that also helps to foster communication. The study also found that those using this multipurpose disclosure strategy reported having experienced reactions of help, support, and accommodation after disclosing making it one of the most effective disclosure methods.  Giving people actions they can do to make hearing easier for themselves empowers both people with an action they can use for more efficient interactions.

Education on disclosure strategies recommended

The findings from the study have motivated the researchers to begin developing a resource guide to help health care providers better prepare their patients for social situations to avoid the isolation that is all too common for people with hearing loss and other communication disabilities.

“We think it can be empowering for patients to know that these strategies, and especially the multipurpose disclosure strategy, are available to them,” Dr. Stankovic said. “Hearing loss is an invisible disability; however, asking people to slow down or face someone with hearing loss while speaking may improve communication.”

The researchers recommend educating people with hearing loss about the different disclosure strategies. Choosing the multipurpose disclosure strategy “may help them gain the confidence they need to disclose their hearing loss and improve communication with others,” said senior author Konstantina Stankovic, “We think it can be empowering for patients to know that these strategies, and especially the multipurpose disclosure strategy, are available to them,” Dr. Stankovic explains.

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