Hellen Keller once mentioned that while people are separated from objects due to vision impairment, they are distanced from other people (often their loved ones) due to deafness. While any disability affects one’s life in a manner that is beyond measure, the lack of general awareness in case of this “invisible disability” cannot be denied. After all, there has to be some reason why discussions pertaining to this topic have not left the confines of the homes of families and well-wishers when nearly 20 percent of Americans are afflicted with varying degrees of hearing loss.
This trend needs to be addressed as continued research reveals the far-reaching consequences of hearing loss on not just the sufferers but their families, friends, and even colleagues as well. Though any form of disability is bound to affect us as well as those around us, but the obvious signs of other disabilities like blindness (i.e carrying a walking cane or wearing the typical glasses) helps others take notice and better accommodate and acknowledge one’s situation. The embarrassment and shame that accompanies hearing loss often inhibit the sufferers from acknowledging their condition that not only delays required treatment but it also makes it difficult for an outsider to acknowledge their situation.
Any issue that lacks in public awareness often manifests from misleading opinions. This must not come as a surprise, as it is difficult to be educated on a matter that is seldom discussed. Another prevalent misconception is that one need not resort to hearing aids unless you’re deaf enough to miss even the loudest of sounds. In fact, more often than not, your hearing is considered to be “just fine” till you’re not screaming at the top of your voice when conversing with someone.
The Better Hearing Institute, in their efforts to understand the real impact of hearing loss, conducted a national survey that aimed to quantify this in terms of the impact it had on the lives and income of an affected household. Their study spanned across 40,000+ families where the impact of untreated hearing impairment was studied for the head of the household and their spouse. The average negative impact was found to be at $12,000 annually, and depending upon the extent of the disability, the figure went as high as $30,000. This was not it. For the 24 million hearing-impaired Americans who are ‘unaided’, the loss attributed to negligence and non-treatment was quantified at a whopping $100 billion annually (that’s worth $18 billion of unrealized tax!) Furthermore, it was observed that in households that used hearing aids, the lost income was mitigated nearly completely (90-100%) for those who had minor hearing loss and was reduced up to 65-77% in the cases with more grave impairment.
Although lost wages cannot be a measure of what hearing impairment takes away from one’s quality of life, it does give an indication of what can be saved by getting it treated and what negligence would cost them.
So, what about the quality of life? How exactly is that affected?
Well, those have been analyzed as well. A study aimed at uncovering the consequence of hearing loss was carried out by The Royal National Institute for Deaf people on families affected by it. In this in-depth analysis, families, and couples reported difficulties like repeating the same things, misinterpretation of their comments, curtailing recreational activities, like avoiding events where a large (and loud) crowd is expected, not being able to enjoy movies without subtitles, and a general imbalance in the household responsibilities shouldered due to the hearing impaired partner being incompetent in taking calls or interacting with those who are not aware of their situation, all of which brewed a gnawing frustration.
In response to these hardships, the families were found to have devised numerous ways to cope with the changes that this situation brought along with it. However, every single member of the family, including the ones affected by this condition, felt burdened. Isn’t it only natural to feel so when even a mild loss of hearing can be a big roadblock in letting us connect with our loved ones and enjoy our life? And, such effects just can’t be equated in terms of money.
In spite of all the findings, we know that even the best-designed studies cannot estimate the value that efficient hearing provides to a person’s life. The joy one gets from the free exchange of ideas at a social gathering, the sense of self-assurance that one gets from being an active contributor even just by hearing everything clearly is something that can never be quantified. Perhaps, with these findings right in front of us as facts and figures, we will take a rational step forward and seek out treatment, for us or for those around us who are affected by this condition. And maybe, through our appreciation of this technology that helps us listen better, we can increase the public awareness about this disability, breaking one barrier at a time.