by Donna S. Wayner, Ph.D.
I have been intrigued by hearing loss since childhood. When term papers were required in high school and college, I researched issues related to hearing and hearing impairment. Then, an advanced degree in Audiology placed me in the arena of working with people with various degrees of hearing loss. In writing my dissertation for the doctorate, I investigated the impact of hearing impairment on a marriage relationship.
These experiences were cerebral and academic. It is only in the last few years that this has dramatically changed. After my husband had a stroke a short time ago, resulting in a severe hearing loss in one ear and a severe-profound loss in the other, the way we lived and communicated for over fifty-five years changed overnight. Now, the challenges of hearing loss became very personal for both of us.
This leads to the immediate personal need to consider the theory of communication. For communication to be successful, it depends on two people; the sender of the message and the receiver. Both need to be involved. If anything disturbs the exchange, i.e. hearing impairment, the message is not delivered successfully.
When communication in any relationship is impacted by a hearing impairment, both partners experience less relational satisfaction. This substantiates the fact that a hearing loss is not only a problem for the person who has the loss of hearing acuity, but for the communication partner as well.
Over the years while in clinical practice as Director of The Hearing Center at Albany Medical Center, where diagnostic and rehabilitative audiological services were provided, we felt it vital when hearing aid and cochlear implant services were given that the patient’s spouse/significant other needed t be included. Both persons required help in understanding the implications a hearing loss could have on their relationship and how to make it better.
As a result, every person receiving a hearing aid or cochlear implant at our facility was scheduled for a series of three classes related to their new hearing device; its use and care, the process of adjustment, audiological rehabilitation, communication strategies and speechreading. The curriculum and materials used were gathered and eventually assembled into several book chapters as well as books and clinical manuals published by Hear Again, Inc.
As a result of my husband’s sudden dramatic loss of hearing, I have re-visited the curriculum materials included in my books to refresh my responsibilities as a communication partner. My husband and I have reviewed them together and work at implementing them.
Good communication involves action on the part of both members of a communication partnership. There are many things that individuals with hearing loss can do in order to take the best advantage of state-of -the-art hearing aids and cochlear implants. Actions by their frequent communication partners can also go a long way in reducing the interpersonal challenges that accompany hearing impairment. Even with the most sophisticated and advanced hearing instruments, being aware of how to communicate is essential.
The following material was included in the classes we offered at Albany Medical Center. It describes what each participant in a communication exchange can do to improve their interactions.
From personal experience, when keeping the suggestions described above in mind, we re-discover that these recommended actions can indeed improve our daily interactions. By remembering that good communication only happens when both parties are involved and sensitive to each others needs, we are helped to navigate the consequences of hearing impairment. It is not always easy, but so very important.
From D.S. Wayner PhD and J.E. Abrahamson, MA, 2000, Learning to Hear Again: An Audiologic Rehabilitation Curriculum Guide. Hear Again, Inc., Austin, TX.