According to a study from Harvard University and Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, women may be better than men at explaining their hearing loss. The study, which surveyed 337 patients in a Massachusetts hearing clinic, found that the women were two times more likely than the men to tell others about their hearing loss, and also to explain how others might help them by communicating differently.
Female study participants reported providing people with specific information, such as “I don’t hear as well out of my right ear. Please walk on my left side.” Men, on the other hand, were more likely to provide a general disclosure of their hearing loss, such as “I am hard of hearing.”
Roughly 29% of the patients surveyed by the research team had mild hearing loss, while 40% had moderate hearing loss, and 30% had severe to profound hearing loss. Most of the study participants had lived with hearing loss for more than five years. The study was designed to discover how hearing loss impacted patients’ lives and what, if anything, they tended to tell others about their condition.
As explained by study authors Jessica West and Konstantina Stankovic, MD, PhD, in an October 28, 2015 article in the online edition of Ear and Hearing, female participants were also more than twice as likely to engage in conversations about hearing loss if they had tried before and been met with support and accommodations. The authors suggest that the women’s approach, which focuses on how to improve communicative interaction rather than simply focusing on the hearing loss itself, is more conducive to limiting how much hearing loss negatively impacts patients’ lives.
A third strategy employed by some of the hard-of-hearing patients surveyed was to not disclose the problem at all, but to say something like, “I can’t hear you, speak up.”
More than 30% of of the study participants reported that they rarely told people of their hearing loss, while about 14% reported sharing the information with people all or most of the time. The researchers found that the severity of hearing loss didn’t appear to influence how people chose to disclose the condition to others.
Because the study was relatively small and conducted at a specialized hearing clinic, the authors note that the responses they gathered may not be representative of all people with hearing loss, and also note that the study wasn’t designed to measure the efficacy of specific phrases people use to disclose their hearing loss. However, others have noted that the study findings highlight the need for clinicians to help patients develop strategies they can comfortably deploy when they need to disclose their hearing loss to improve communication.
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