June 15, 2018, by Eithne Heffernan

The Impact of Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss

Welcome to the second Hearing Matters blog by the Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss Group at the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre. This month, we will take a look at how mild to moderate hearing loss affects those who live with it. This includes both people who have hearing loss and their families.

What does ‘mild to moderate’ really mean?

Hearing loss can be categorised as mild, moderate, severe, and profound. These categories are based on a clinical test (pure-tone audiogram) that measures the quietest level of tones that a person is able to hear across a range of different frequencies (e.g. bass, treble). They are not based on assessing the impact hearing loss has on the person’s everyday life (e.g. impact on work or family life).

Mild to moderate hearing loss is by far the most common type of hearing loss. People often think that ‘mild to moderate’ means ‘minor’ or ‘low impact’. However, this is not the case where hearing loss is concerned. Even a mild level of hearing loss can have major consequences on daily life. For example, it can lead to communication problems, social withdrawal, and reduced quality of life.

As a result, it is recommended that people with mild to moderate hearing loss who have difficulties with hearing and communication seek assistance from an audiologist and consider using hearing aids. Some of our recent research shows that hearing aids are effective at improving listening abilities, participation in everyday life, and overall quality of life.

Consequences of mild to moderate hearing loss

Social Life – Hearing loss often makes it difficult to take part in conversations with other people. Group conversations and conversations in busy places (e.g. restaurants, bars) can be particularly challenging. This makes it hard to enjoy spending time with family and friends.

It can also become difficult to enjoy various pastimes, including listening to the radio or television, being a member of social clubs, going on trips, and going to the theatre or cinema.

Work and Education – Some people find that hearing loss affects their work performance (e.g. taking part in meetings, listening on the telephone). Others find that their performance in education is affected (e.g. listening to a lecture, taking part in a class discussion). Some people find it hard to get the right support and facilities from their organisation.

What’s more, research has shown that hearing loss is linked to lower wages and higher unemployment levels.

Wellbeing – Hearing loss can lead to negative emotions, including frustration, isolation, embarrassment, and worry. Some find that they lose confidence in their ability to communicate with others. Some feel stigmatised by having a hearing loss or by wearing hearing aids. For example, some feel that they are seen as being elderly or as being less capable than others.

Several studies have linked hearing loss to mental health conditions (e.g. depression, anxiety). More research is needed to fully understand this link.

Communication Partners – Communication partners are people that are in regular contact with a person with hearing loss (e.g. family and friends). They too can be negatively affected by hearing loss. For example, they can have misunderstandings with the person with hearing loss or they may have to go to social events alone without the person with hearing loss.

Silver lining – Some people find that there are positive aspects to having hearing loss, though they tend to be outweighed by the negative aspects. The positive aspects include better concentration, stronger bonds with communication partners, better understanding of other people with hearing loss, and being more self-reliant.

What can I do about it?

Our upcoming blogs will look at the wide range of support options and interventions that can help people to overcome hearing and communication difficulties. These include hearing aids, listening devices, and auditory training.

Where can I learn more?

You can read more about research on the impact of hearing loss by clicking on the links below:

Written by: Dr Eithne Heffernan, Research Fellow, Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss Research Team, NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre

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