In 1969, famed Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross released her theory of the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These same emotional stages can apply to any source of grief – from the loss of a loved one to the loss of one’s hearing.
Being the “invisible disability”, hearing loss is often misunderstood. It’s hard to relate to what a person with hearing loss is going through if you haven’t gone through it yourself. This can make it hard for a hearing-impaired person to find emotional support, which is why hearing loss support groups are such a positive resource.
AN AUDIOLOGIST CAN BE A SHOULDER TO LEAN ON
Figuratively speaking, an audiologist can become a patient’s best friend and counsel as they cope with the onset of hearing loss. They have come to you for treatment and may also need your advice and compassion to get through the first few months of being hearing impaired.
STAGE ONE: DENIAL
When a patient begins to notice their hearing is starting to fade, they may slough it off by blaming every little noise and distraction. When they start cranking up the TV volume to 9 or 10 when it used to be comfortable at 6, they may blame it on the sound quality of the device. No matter what they’re having trouble hearing, there’s always an excuse.
What they can’t refute are the cold, hard results of a hearing test. If you encounter patients who are in the Denial stage, the results of their audiogram may force them to reconsider what is really to blame.
STAGE TWO: ANGER
Now that the person has been diagnosed with some degree of hearing loss, the anger of losing their hearing may set in. They may get angry with what they perceive as inconsiderate behavior on the part of others who offer no sympathy for their condition. Or, they may be upset if someone turns down the music volume to a level they can’t hear. Most likely, they may get irritated when a person refuses to repeat something.
If you are seeing patients at this stage, it may help to remind them that not everyone is aware of their hearing loss. And, even if they are, it is hard for someone to suddenly change their way of communicating just to accommodate them. Just as it will take time for them to adapt to their condition, it will also take time for others to.
STAGE THREE: BARGAINING
At this stage, patients may be looking for the positives of hearing loss. They may have yet to fully accept their diagnosis and may be looking for anything they can find comfort in. Or they may do a bit of bargaining with themselves, insisting that having healthy hearing was never that important to them.
Patients who are at the Bargaining stage may not be quite ready to go all in for hearing aids, but they are open to listening to what you have to say about the advantages of wearing them.
STAGE FOUR: DEPRESSION
Some patients may feel the best way to deal with their hearing loss is to avoid situations and social gatherings where they will have to carry on a meaningful conversation. During the Depression stage, people with hearing loss may keep to themselves and partake in more solitary activities that don’t require communicating with others.
If you recognize physical or verbal changes in your patient, and they are showing signs of being depressed about their hearing loss, talk with them about it. Ask them questions about what they’ve been up to and offer advice on how they can still live a happy, active life with hearing loss.
STAGE FIVE: ACCEPTANCE
At this stage, many patients will be ready to resolve their hearing loss with the proper treatment and hearing aids. This is where you begin to become a more important person in their life through effective counselling. They may be more open to taking your advice and more engaged during their visits.