5 REASONS: Why it's difficult to identify your own hearing loss

AKA, when a loved one, who clearly has hearing difficulty, says, "I don't have any problems hearing!"

Many of us have had the experience...Someone we know, who quite obviously to the observer, has difficulty hearing, says with complete sincerity: "I don't have any problems hearing!" With wide eyed expression, we find their response, well...remarkable.

Hearing care professional, Cutis Alcock, outlined five reasons below as to why the person with hearing loss is such a poor identifier of their own loss:

1. You can't perceive what doesn't exist. This theory is based on the concept studied in human and animal behavior called umwelt, which states that our perception is shaped by our senses. For those with hearing loss, if a sound falls outside of our own hearing range, that sound ceases to exist, and is no longer part of their reality. The person with hearing loss doesn't believe that they can't hear sounds. Rather, the sounds, in their minds, don't even exist!

2. Sound is an ever-changing target. Sound changes continuously. It is sometimes louder, sometimes softer. Television is one good example of fluctuating loudness. The person who is shy or has poor speech patterns may be hard to understand...for everyone, which is another example. Background noise does interfere with hearing speech. As we age, we have more lifetime experiences of fluctuating loudness, which makes it easier for one to think that outside factors, not personal hearing loss, is the reason behind not hearing.

3. Often, it's believed that missed speech is caused by another system. Since understanding comes from a mix of auditory, visual, cognitive and social cues, one can easily blame another system for the lack of hearing: "I wasn't paying attention." "You weren't facing me when you talked to me."

4. Hearing loss is generally gradual. Thus, making it nearly impossible to recall what a sound heard like many months, or several years prior. In order to believe that one has a decline in hearing, one must have an immediate comparison between two different sound samples. It's the contrast between the two sounds, say, for example, what normal hearing sounds like and what their hearing loss sounds like, is identifiable. Small, one decibel changes are not perceivable.

This is why I regularly have the patient listen to a sound sample of normal hearing and then turn off the sound sample and listen using one's own ears. The contrast is easy to identify, even for the doubting patient. Hearing Loss Simulation software allows the accompanying loved one to hear the same contrast as it relates to the hearing impaired person.

5. The vast majority of hearing losses are high frequency, not low frequency. High frequency hearing loss, if still in the mild to moderate range, reduces clarity of speech, much more than loudness of speech. Therefore, the person with the mild to moderate high frequency hearing loss can hear speech, but cannot clearly understand speech. This reinforces their perception that one doesn't have hearing loss, it is that the speech delivered to the ear, simply isn't clear enough. More evidence to the person with hearing loss that the trouble lies in external factors.
All of these reasons outline why it is difficult to self-identify hearing loss. The best way for someone to truly understand their hearing capabilities is by having an Audiologist conduct a diagnostic hearing test. After testing, if it's identified that hearing loss is present, and Audiologist can provide that person with a sound sample of normal hearing, and then the same sound sample as they are hearing it with hearing loss. Simply telling the person that they have hearing loss, without hearing testing, can create further disbelief and confusion.
For more information on how Champlain Valley Audiology can help you, please give us a call at 518-324-5705 or follow us on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/CVAudiology/

Sharon Macner, Au.D.
Doctor of Audiology
Champlain Valley Audiology, PLLC
Plattsburgh, NY

Alcock, C. It's not denial. It's observation. Hearing Review 2015:16-20.