“What did you just say?” Hearing loss stereotypes by Kimberly Canfield

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Aging is inevitable.  While there are many secondary outside factors that we can control, primary aging is something that cannot be avoided.  Over time, the body changes and biologically we are not the same as we once were.  However, that does not mean that our bodies are changed for the worse.  When using the word, aging, there are many stereotypes that can be associated with that.  Many times the words senile, pessimistic, and disabled come to mind when using that term.  Stereotypes can be some of the most harmful representations of a certain group, because of how false they are.

Specifically relating to older adults, hearing loss is one of the top biological changes that takes place during middle adulthood and the rest of development.  The loss of hearing for many individuals often then leads to the belief in these stereotypes associated with older adults.  These stereotypes include lower quality of life, slower cognitive ability, and a higher view of disability.  While hearing loss is a primary form of aging, it does not mean that it should become a stereotype of older adults.

Many people believe that as you age, your quality of life decreases.  While that may be true for a small percentage of older adults, studies have shown that as an older adult, the rate of happiness increases exponentially.  Depression rates are lowered due to higher rates of financial stability and a heavier focus on the self of the individual (Burzynska, 2017).  Hearing loss can have drastic effects on the individual experiencing it, these effects are not only physical but can also play into a psychological and emotional role.  For humans in general, the deprivation of one of the five senses can set the brain into panic and induce anxiety at extreme high levels.  However, because the loss of hearing is such a normative development the treatments for it highly beneficial and can allow the individual to regain their hearing to either full function or close to it.  The most popular forms of treatment of hearing loss are either hearing aids, and if the loss of hearing is at a higher rate, cochlear implants are a frequent form of treatment.  A study done by the University of Navarra Clinic in Pamplona, Spain, took a look at the benefits of cochlear implants and hearing aids and how much they improved the quality of life of older adults.  The study had shown that hearing aids and cochlear implants had positive effects on psychological aspects of depression and anxiety, as well as health status and quality of life.  There was about an eighty-three percent increase in quality of life among the one hundred and seventeen patients that were included in this study.  However, when the cochlear implant and hearing aid were put side by side, the implant was increasingly more effective that the hearing aid itself.  Cochlear implants are put inside the ear to replace the damaged part of the cochlea which provides sound signals to the brain, as opposed to a hearing aid which just amplifies sound around the individual (Calavia, et.al, 2016).  These treatment options are widely available and offer a very simple solution to what can highly alter a person’s physical and psychological well-being, giving them a higher quality of life.

It has also been proven that older adults that are experiencing hearing loss, have higher leisure social lifestyles than they once did before (Bentler & Yu-Hsiang, 2012).  Many people believe that as people age, their lifestyles age as well, causing their lifestyles to become more slow and sedentary than they once were before.  This study showed that as adults aged, their auditory lifestyle was still relatively the same as it was when they were younger.  Although the younger and older participants used their hearing for different reasons, it was still used in the same amounts.  Personally, I can fully support this claim in the evidence that I have witnessed in my own life.  All of older adults in my family that have reported or shown a decreasing in hearing have been as actively as social as they were before the problem started occurring.  Thus, completely disproving the stereotype that older adults have a lower quality of life due to the loss of their hearing.

Once adults start to lose their hearing, many times people believe that they are mentally slower and don’t have as high of a cognitive ability that they once had before.  Excluding specific mental disease, this can be completely false.  Older adults were proven to have the same level of ability that they had their entire life.  Just because the level of hearing decreased in certain individuals, their brain did not lose the based skills that we use to carry out simple and complex tasks.  These individuals still adherently were able to problem solve, pay attention, learn and remember things regardless of a slight hearing impairment (Barber & Lee, 2015).  Physically, older adults were somewhat slower in carrying out the task if it was related to physical labor however, mentally they were still considered to have a high level of cognitive ability.  Cognitive ability is something that we only lose due to certain mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and damage to certain lobes of the brain.  I’ve However, hearing loss was not specifically related back to slower cognitive function and ability (Barber & Lee, 2015).  The brain can function with a slight loss in hearing, and with the treatments of hearing aids and cochlear implants being so widely used, the decrease in cognitive ability decreasing due to hearing loss is false.

Another stereotype that is highly prominent surrounding hearing loss is that older adults can be looked at as being “disabled”.  By definition, the term disabled relates to a physical or mental condition that limits movements, senses, or activities (Webster, 2017).  Older adults are stereotypically seen as disabled just because they may not be as physically fast as they once were.  While the complete loss of hearing, being deaf, is seen as a disability, the slight loss of hearing that most older adults will experience is not considered to be a disability by law (Bent, Brennan, & McShea, 2015).  While hearing loss is something that can affect everyday life, it is not seen or recognized as a disability.  This stereotype of older adults being disabled due to the loss of hearing can be considered potentially deteriorating because recently individuals that have viewed themselves as disabled due to hearing are at a higher risk of depression and anxiety than those who did not view themselves as such (Barber & Lee, 2015).  It caused individuals to mentally and physically slow themselves down as opposed to those who didn’t view themselves as disabled.  It was also shown that when being tested on during the experiments, adults who viewed themselves as disabled scored significantly lower than those who didn’t.  Stereotype threat was a clear variable that was shown through this study and how much it can negatively impact the lives and abilities of older adults with hearing loss.

Stereotypes are extremely prevalent in not only American society, but all around the world.  They can be increasingly harmful not only mentally but physically as well.  Hearing loss is something that we cannot avoid as developing humans, however we can avoid the stereotypes that surround it.  Lower quality of life, slower cognitive ability, and higher view of disability are all stereotypes that have been broken by scientific findings, as well as our own personal evidence to support them.  Older adults with hearing loss have been proven to have high quality of life, the same cognitive ability, and are not considered disabled.  Hearing loss is a biological and normative factor, while the stereotypes surrounding it are sociocultural factors.  Older adults with hearing loss are anything but slow and senile people.  They have great lives and are high functioning individuals.  The stereotypes towards older adults need to be broken, because through research and experimental findings, they are anything but what we as society have labeled them to be.

 

 

References

Barber, S. J., & Lee, S. R. (2015). Stereotype Threat Lowers Older Adults’ Self-Reported Hearing Abilities. Gerontology , 62(1), 81-85. doi:10.1159/000439349

Bent, S., McShea, L., & Siobhan, B. (2015). The importance of hearing: a review of the literature on hearing loss for older people with learning disabilities. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 43(4), 277-284. doi:10.1111/bld.12148

Burzynska, A. Z. (2017). Aging: Why and How? [Powerpoint]. Retrieved from Colorado State University Adult Development and Middle Aging.

Jennings, S. G., Ahlstorm, J. B., & Dubno, J. R. (2016). Effects of age and hearing loss on overshoot. Journal of Acoustical Society of America, 140(4), 2481-2491. doi:10.1121/1.4964267

Manrique-Huarte, R., Calavia, D., Huarte Irujo, A., Girón, L., & Manrique-Rodríquez, M. (2016). Treatment for Hearing Loss among the Elderly: Auditory Outcomes and Impact on Quality of Life. Audiology and Neuro-Otology, 21, 29-35. doi:10.1159/000448352

Sung, Y., Li, L., Betz, J., Blake, C., & Lin, F. R. (2016). Association of Hearing Loss and Loneliness in Older Adults. Journal of Aging & Health, 28(6), 979-994. doi:10.1177/0898264315614570

Yu-Hsiang, W. (2012). Do Older Adults Have Social Lifestyles That Place Fewer Demands on Hearing? Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 23(9), 697-711.

 

 

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