Talking about Hearing Loss: Why Your Disclosure Method Matters

Talking about Hearing Loss: Why Your Disclosure Method Matters

In Communication, Hearing Loss by Dr. Chris Lawson

Dr. Chris Lawson

Chris Lawson’s credentials include a Doctorate in Clinical Audiology (Au.D.) from the University of Maryland in College Park, and a B.S. in Communication Disorders from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His graduate clinical training included rotations at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), public schools, and private practice settings.
Dr. Chris Lawson

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How you talk about your hearing loss can greatly improve your overall communication patterns and help you feel much more integrated into your rich social life. It is sometimes surprising to learn that talking about your hearing loss to friends, loved ones, and co-workers can be quite difficult. Talking about you hearing loss can be even more difficult to discuss with people who you don’t even know, or don’t know all that well, from strangers to people that you work with. There are many different ways to disclose your hearing abilities to other people, however, and finding one that suits your personality and needs is very important to your well-being.

The Importance of Disclosing Hearing Loss

Though it seems like common sense, it should go without saying that you should tell people that you cannot hear in ways that they might be expecting. Of course, it can be frustrating to feel like it’s your job to tell people about your hearing loss and to explain to them your needs.

Despite how frustrating it can be, it is important to talk about your hearing capabilities so that you can maintain the best, healthiest communication with the people around you. According to Konstantina Stankovic, M.D., Ph.D., FACS, who is an otologic surgeon and researcher at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and an associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School, knowing about the multiple kinds of disclosure methods that are available to you—and picking one that suits your needs—has ripple effects across other parts of your life.

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

Levels of Disclosure

Stanvokic’s conclusions are derived from a 2015 study that she and her team published in the Ear and Hearing journal. In this study, they discuss the strategies 300 people in the study have for disclosing their hearing loss. They found that there are multiple tiers of disclosure that people often use when they want to talk about their hearing loss.

Non-disclosure

The first level of disclosure is called “non-disclosure,” and might be self-explanatory. People in part of this category are reluctant to disclose their hearing loss and often use phrases that people with normal hearing use—such as “Can you speak up? I can’t hear you”—which does not necessary signal to people that hearing loss is at play. A second method of talking about hearing loss is described as “basic disclosure,” where people disclose that they are experiencing hearing loss but also share background information about their hearing loss such as describing how their hearing loss occurred and what it feels like.

Multipurpose disclosure

The next level of disclosure is described as “multipurpose disclosure.” Under this method of disclosure, people talk about the fact that they have hearing loss, and they also often suggest ways that the person or people who they are talking to can accommodate their hearing loss. With a multipurpose disclosure, a person experiencing hearing loss might, for example, announce to someone that they hear out of one ear better than the other. They then would follow up this disclosure by asking the person they are communicating with to speak from side of their body in order to facilitate better hearing. Stankovic suggests that choosing a multipurpose disclosure strategy “may help [you] gain the confidence they need to disclose their hearing loss and improve communication with others.”

Staying Connected with Hearing Loss

There are many reasons to disclosure your hearing loss, and there are just as many reasons to pick the disclosure method that matters to you or works for you in a particular environment. Sometimes nondisclosure is perfectly suitable for where you are; you may be in a place for a short amount of time or may not be all that interested in communicating deeply with someone. At other times you may want to have a different kind of engagement with someone, and so want to give your listener more guidance—a multipurpose disclosure may feel like the perfect choice. No matter what, the more you know about the different kinds of disclosure methods that are available to you, the more equipped you will be to enter into diverse communication situations.

Evergreen Audiology

Have you experienced changes in your hearing? Have you noticed that you’re not communicating as well as you once did, or do you feel disconnected from your loved ones? It may be hearing loss. Contact us at Evergreen Audiology for your comprehensive hearing health services.