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Millions of people are navigating hearing loss on a daily basis. Though hearing loss is a major health concern, it can be easily overlooked or ignored because it often happens gradually. This means that there are even more people suffering from hearing loss who may not be aware of it and could substantially benefit from treatment. Impaired hearing can deeply affect all aspects of a person’s life, often putting strain on managing both personal and professional responsibilities. Living and working with hearing loss does not have to be as overwhelming as it can be if left unaddressed. It is critical to understand how hearing loss can impact a person, effective ways to work with hearing loss, and the growing recognition of hearing health.
Impact of Hearing Loss
With a reduced ability to hear, communication can become extremely difficult. Hearing loss limits the absorption, processing, and understanding of speech and sound. This causes people to experience various challenges including:
- Difficulty with following entire conversations
- Hearing distinct words because sounds are muffled
- Tough time navigating conversations with multiple people and in environments with loud background noise
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves and/or speak louder
- Needing to move to quieter areas to hear
This causes people suffering from hearing loss to use extra energy in an attempt to hear more clearly. One may find themselves reading mouths and using other strategies to fill in the communication gaps. Conversations can then feel taxing and more work than pleasure. This fatigue can cause people to not engage with others, avoid social gatherings, and limit interactions.
Tips for Working with Hearing Loss
In addition to straining relationships, hardship with communication can make completing work tasks and responsibilities harder. It may take more time, extra focus and effort, and require assistance. The following tips can be useful:
- Share Your Hearing Loss: letting your coworkers, supervisor, and other people you may regularly interact with know that your hearing is impaired can be really helpful. This creates an environment where you can openly discuss what you need and what is most helpful for you to do your best work. You can share ways to engage in conversation that are beneficial to your hearing; for example, facing you while talking, standing close enough to you, not speaking rapidly etc.
- Be Aware of Insurance Coverage: understanding what kind of coverage your insurance does and does not provide can help you navigate costs associated with seeking treatment for hearing loss. Also learning about any wellness programs your employer may offer and inquiring about the inclusion of hearing health can support improving and maintaining your overall health.
- Use Hearing Aids and Other Technology: hearing loss is absolutely treatable. The most common treatment is hearing aids. These small devices work to absorb and amplify sound, helping people hear better. With increasingly advanced technology, hearing aids can be highly customized to meet the specific hearing needs of every person. There is also a wide-range of styles and features available that can really transform what one can hear. Additionally, there are other technologies assisting with hearing that would be incredibly helpful in the workplace (for example, phones with amplified speakers, communication applications such as slack).
Hearing Loss and Employers
Historically, employers have not included treatment for hearing loss in the benefits package offered to employees. However, the reality of an aging workforce in the United States may be changing that. According to an article in Forbes, a growing recognition of the increasing average age of workers is encouraging employers to offer expanded health benefits. The article cites research from a national survey of employer sponsored health plans conducted in 2016. The findings show that:
- 60% of the large employers surveyed (those with 5,000 employees or more) now offer some insurance coverage for hearing aids
- Firms are also starting to add hearing health to their employee wellness programs
This growing movement recognizing hearing health and its impact on work performance could help reduce stigma associated with hearing loss and encourage people to have their hearing assessed (and receive treatment). This would contribute to creating an environment that is conducive to working and thriving in.