The Real Impact Of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

It’s More Than Just Not Hearing Sounds

Unlike most of our blog posts about hearing loss, this specific one has been written with the family and friends of the hard of hearing in mind rather than the individual actually suffering with hearing loss. For those without personal experience with hearing loss, there is an idea by many that all that is required to improve someone’s hearing is to make sounds louder. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, this is far from the reality as sound clarity and the ability to distinguish one sound from others in the environment are typically compromised. The more severe the hearing loss, the more likely that clarity and background noise reduction are further hampered.

Through years of listening to the hard of hearing describe their difficulties, the best framework that I have been able to understand what living with a hearing loss is like, has been my experience speaking second and third languages and speaking with other non-native English speakers.


Mild Hearing Impairments:

My analogy for a mild hearing loss would be some of my friends who would be considered completely bilingual, but English wasn’t their first language. In most situations, particularly in a quiet setting, you would never know that they were not native speakers, and there wouldn’t be any discernible interruptions to the conversation. However, when they are really tired, or in situations where there is a lot of background noise, you might notice the extra effort that they are having to put into understanding, and that they are more likely to disengage from the conversation because they are missing too much of what is happening.

This is how a mild hearing loss impacts an individual. Without realizing it, they are putting in additional listening effort than someone with normal hearing. As long as they have the motivation or capacity to expend this additional effort, they should be able to get by quite well with appropriate hearing aids.


Moderate to Severe Hearing Impairments:

I certainly wouldn’t consider myself bilingual, but after years of French as a second language schooling, and significant practice using my “passable” French while traveling throughout Quebec, I can get by in a conversation when I am motivated to. However, understanding does not come easily and I am required to use a lot of energy and cognitive load to follow along with the conversation. Oftentimes I miss a word here or there that I haven’t learned yet, but based on the context, I am able to figure it out. However, once the acoustics get worse. In a noisy restaurant, I often miss enough of the sentence in a group conversation to lose track of the topic. Further to that, this analogy really hit home when I attended a friend’s wedding at a beautiful catholic cathedral. Despite my usual ability to follow along with a French presentation, the echo and reverberation in the building left me completely incapable of isolating one word from the next.

For those with moderate to severe hearing loss, they will have to use additional listening effort in quiet settings, but should be able to still function quite well in that situation when motivated and when they have an adequate amount of cognitive energy. However, as the listening situation degrades due to background noise or echo/reverberation, they often start to miss a significant amount of the conversation. If it is too noisy, or they are tired, they might tend to withdraw from the setting, or just “smile and nod”.


Profound Hearing Impairments:

I have had the opportunity to travel to a few Spanish speaking parts of the world, and through some exposure to Spanish, and quite a few similarities in their words to other languages and words such as French, I can pick through reading a menu, a brochure, street signs, etcetera. I know quite a few individual words, and if someone were to say just that word, I could understand some of those. However, once someone starts to speak Spanish in sentences to me, I hear sounds, but everything blends together and I am unable to separate one word from the next, even in quiet.

For those with profound hearing loss, it is possible that even in quiet settings, they are experiencing challenges, and require a significant amount of additional support. This is even more so true if the speaker has an accent, is very soft spoken, turns their back, or is speaking from another room. For these individuals, it can be almost impossible to piece together a sentence in background noise and reverberant rooms without the use of a remote microphone system which allows the speaker’s voice to be amplified significantly above all of the other noise happening in the environment.

Hopefully you have found this information has been helpful in understanding the issues faced by those with hearing loss. To learn more about what causes hearing loss, please visit our How We Hear page of our website.

While hearing aids and other assistive listening devices can make a huge impact on one’s ability to hear. The technology is moving faster than it has ever before and the noise filtering and adaptive features in today’s latest hearing aids are absolutely incredible. With that said, depending on how reduced the functionality of the hearing system is, they aren’t able to return hearing to a “normal” ability. Conversation breakdowns for the hard of hearing (at least those wearing appropriate hearing aids) are typically not because the hearing aids aren’t working, or the person is intentionally not paying attention to what is being said, but due to a combination of the specific capabilities of their hearing system, their energy level, their motivation to listen, their understanding of the topic, their cognitive load, the familiarity and strength of the individual speaking and the listening environment.

For anyone with a hearing loss, wondering where they fit on this scale, our hearing assessments measure one’s ability to hear sounds throughout the speech range, the clarity that they can distinguish words in quiet and their ability to separate speech from background noise. Following the test, we will provide you with a complete 6 page report which identifies potential areas that could cause issues and also discusses which strategies would be helpful to improve their communication.

Related Blogs