Monday, October 19, 2015

The stigma door -- Diane Mettam

I have been reading and hearing a lot lately about people who need hearing aids but refuse to use them - even the AARP waded into the foray with an article entitled Invisible Hearing Aids Misguided Message, the implication being that hearing aids, and hearing problems, are so shameful that one must hide them.

I am dealing with this very problem in my own family.  I have a beloved family member with noticeable hearing loss.  Three years ago we convinced him to have his hearing tested and yes, indeed, he needed hearing aids.  We convinced him to get the hearing aids; he we found some very good (and very expensive) ones that blended into his hair color, fit behind his ears, and were relatively unnoticeable.  His medical insurance picked up perhaps a third of the cost. 

Unfortunately, he refuses to wear his hearing aids.  Although they are nearly invisible, he is afraid someone will see them, and think that he is old, or that he has a disability.  I am worried that he will not hear, or mis-hear, something important at his job and a bad mistake will be made.  How does one deal with theses fears, rational or irrational, and convince someone that their job or their reputation is not at stake if they wear hearing aids?

Grey and/or balding hair certainly belies ones notions of youth, so what is the stigma of a hearing aid?  (And people certainly notice if we dye our hair!)  A cane or walker surely indicates one cant walk as freely as they did once upon a time.  Isnt asking someone to repeat themselves over and over again an indication there is a problem?  Audiologist Mark Ross writes that rejecting a hearing aid is no way to recapture ones youth. As a matter of fact, well-fitted hearing aids, because of the way they will improve communication efficiency, can help one function in an apparently more youthful manner.

Is the stigma of wearing a hearing aid so severe that people will risk their jobs, their friendships, perhaps their lives in misheard and not-heard conversations rather than placing that little receiver in their ear?  I am baffled. But then I remember that at first I was hesitant to use a wheelchair.  I thought I could get by with a walker, even though I was causing more pain and injury to my body, and probably making more people uncomfortable as they witnessed my struggle.  We all have our hills to climb.  

. . . let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill. . .  Proverbs 1:5

Dear Creator God, We live in a marvelous time, with wonderful devices made to help us when our bodies fail us.  Wheelchairs that can operate with sip-puff technology, lens implants that can restore vision, hearing aids, amazing prostheses, cochlear implants, home Braille printers, computers that can operate with eye blinks  - we are blessed to live in an era when creative minds are expanding our world.  Help us to accept the changes that our bodies are experiencing, and to reach out for solutions that will help us remain faithful, lively members of your family.  Amen.

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