Hearing impairment social impact

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Editor-in-Chief: Angela Botts, M.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Geriatric Medicine [1]

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Social Impact

Pre-lingual impairment

See also: Prelingual deafness

In children, hearing loss can lead to social isolation for several reasons. First, the child experiences delayed social development that is in large part tied to delayed language acquisition. It is also directly tied to their inability to pick up auditory social cues. This can result in a deaf person becoming generally irritable. A child who uses sign language, or identifies with the deaf sub-culture does not generally experience this isolation, particularly if he/she attends a school for the deaf, but may conversely experience isolation from his parents if they do not know sign language. A child who is exclusively or predominantly oral (using speech for communication) can experience social isolation from his or her hearing peers, particularly if no one takes the time to explicitly teach her social skills that other children acquire independently by virtue of having normal hearing. Finally, a child who has a severe impairment and uses some sign language may be rejected by his or her deaf peers, because of an understandable hesitation in abandoning the use of existent verbal and speech-reading skills. Some in the deaf community can view this as a rejection of their own culture and its mores, and therefore will reject the individual preemptively.

Post-lingual impairment

Those who lose their hearing later in life, such as in late adolescence or adulthood, face their own challenges. For example, they must adjust to living with the adaptations that make it possible for them to live independently. They may have to adapt to using hearing aids or a cochlear implant, develop speech-reading skills, and/or learn sign language. The affected person may need to use a TTY (teletype), interpreter, or relay service to communicate over the telephone. Loneliness and depression can arise as a result of isolation (from the inability to communicate with friends and loved ones) and difficulty in accepting their disability. The challenge is made greater by the need for those around them to adapt to the person's hearing loss.

Many relationships have suffered because of the anger that occurs when there is general miscommunication between family members. Generally, it's not only the person with a hearing disability that feels isolated, but others around them who feel they are not being "heard" or paid attention to, especially when the hearing loss has been gradual. Many people opt not to choose hearing aids for fear of looking old, since hearing loss is usually associated with old age, which equals ineffectiveness in some societies. Family members then feel as if their hearing loss partner doesn't care about them enough to make changes to reduce their disability and make it easier to communicate.

Assistance Devices

  • Hearing dogs, a category of assistance dogs, are trained to help those with hearing impairments.
  • The advent of the internet's World Wide Web and closed captioning has given the hearing impaired unprecedented access to information. Electronic mail and online chat have reduced the need for deaf and hard of hearing people to use a third-party Telecommunications Relay Service in order to communicate with the hearing and other hearing impaired people.