Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker, avid Bikram yogi, and member of the Ida community. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, an online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Over the next few months, she will be sharing her views on person-centered care from a personal point of view. Stay tuned for more articles and connect with Shari on Facebook and Twitter.
My Hearing Loss Story
I first noticed my hearing loss in my mid-20s at graduate school when I began missing things in class — a quiet comment that was made as an aside or under one’s breath. Sometimes the class would burst into laughter and I would be left wondering what was so funny. Other times I missed important clarifications from the professor.
I knew what the problem was. Both my father and grandmother had developed hearing loss as young adults. It was my turn. I went to get my hearing tested and was told I had mild hearing loss, too slight to treat. This surprised me since I was struggling in class, but with this excuse at hand, I chose to ignore my hearing issues, preferring denial to action.
This lasted several years, until I began a new job that involved more client contact. Now not only did I have trouble hearing in meetings, but I struggled to develop relationships with soft-spoken clients. Outside of work, I began avoiding friends that I could not hear easily. It was time for another hearing test.
This time, hearing aids were recommended and I was crushed. The stigma surrounding hearing loss had been very strong in my home growing up. I watched my father became isolated and alone, withdrawing from everyone in his life as he worried more about hiding his hearing loss than learning to communicate despite it.
At first, I wore my hearing aids only when absolutely necessary, but eventually I needed them almost all of the time. Still, I found myself avoiding many social situations and going out of my way to hide my hearing loss from others. I was following in my father’s footsteps.
But when I had children of my own, everything changed. I didn’t want them to see me hiding my hearing loss or being embarrassed by it. I needed to model better behavior in case one or both of them developed the condition. I had to accept my hearing loss. So I did. And now I am an advocate for people like me.
My Audiologist Experiences
For most people with hearing loss, an audiologist is the first hearing care provider they see. The influence an audiologist has on their new patient’s hearing loss journey cannot be overstated. It certainly was very important for me.
I arrived at my first audiologist appointment scared, uninformed and bogged down with the baggage of stigma. But despite a real concern that I was missing things in class, I was sent home without any new skills or devices that could help. The audiologist did not even suggest that perhaps a different seat in the classroom could be helpful. Thinking back on it now, this standard of care is very disappointing.
I have seen several audiologists in the years since that first visit. Only one asked me which hearing situations were most important to me. Only one (a different one) tested how well I heard when wearing my hearing aids. None recommended hearing loss support groups or shared communication best practices with me.
My care focused on which hearing aid to purchase rather than solving my communication problems. Only through my advocacy work and by meeting other people with hearing loss have I discovered the tips and tricks that I use today to lead a productive and happy life despite hearing loss.
Person-Centered Care in Four Easy Steps
Person-centered care could have alleviated many of the problems I faced in the early years of my hearing loss. In this series of articles I look forward to describing what person-centered care means to me as a patient. The four main parts include:
1. Partner With Your Patient: Each person’s hearing loss journey is unique so a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Focusing on what is important to your patient will increase their satisfaction and improve compliance.
2. Make Your Office Hearing Loss Friendly: Remember, people are there because they cannot hear well. Train your staff to use communication best practices and have assistive listening technology on hand to aid as needed.
3. Embrace Creativity: Don’t get trapped in a hearing aid only approach. Linking aids to other assistive listening devices will give your clients greater access in a wider variety of situations. Stay current as new options become available.
4. Think Beyond The Technology: Share basic communication tips with your patients and their families. Simple adjustments in behavior alone can increase communication success and lower frustration for both sides.
Still not convinced person-centered care is right for you? Take a look at Ida’s Myth Busters which dispels common fears about implementing a person-centered care approach for your practice.