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Sex and Hearing Loss

Posted Dec 06 2010 1:44pm

When preparing to write this post, I went back and forth about providing “hard and fast” FACTS about gender differences in hearing loss and writing about personal observations. Because I can easily provide links to documents, research and scholarly articles about the topic, I decided to write about personal observations. Before I do that, let me provide those links!

A wonderful article about gender and race differences can be accessed HERE .

How hormones can have a part in the way hearing loss manifests in individuals can be read about HERE .

An article about why men are more likely to experience hearing loss can be accessed HERE .

An article by ASHA and Cochlear Americas can be accessed HERE .

Personal Observations

I realize that personal observations are somewhat limited by the experiences of the individual themselves. However, as I have had the opportunity to be a part of a number of hearing loss organizations, and have had the privilege of speaking to groups of my peers and professionals across the United States, I have a lot of faith in my own personal observations about gender differences. Sometimes new information was gleaned as the result of attending workshops, conferences and meetings; listening to experts on hearing loss discuss gender differences was very informative. However, I also happen to be a terrific “listener” in spite of my own profound hearing loss. Corresponding with people from across the United States that I may have met in my travels, or are frequently visiting “Hearing Elmo”, I have drawn some conclusions about how hearing loss affects the different sexes. Please allow me to share my observations with you!

Men with Hearing Loss

1. Men are more apt to be pushed into getting help. Perhaps men stay in a stage of denial longer than women do, but men are usually encouraged to do something about their hearing loss as opposed to taking the initiative to doing it themselves. I don’t think it is because they are unable to make decisions about their hearing health; rather, men are more likely to “fake” their way through life pretending they don’t really have a hearing problem. This does not mean that women do not “fake it”, nor does it mean that women are not ever pestered to visit an audiologist. I just believe that men are more likely to be badgered into going to a hearing health professional than women are.

2. Men do not usually seek support from peers until hearing loss has reached a critical point. I believe that men are more likely to “go on about their life” and “making do” after getting that first hearing aid than women are. If assistive technology allows a man to continue working, interacting, and living life, they will be unlikely to join support groups or advocacy groups compared to women with hearing loss. If hearing loss is progressive, men will also begin to seek out information, support, and peers once hearing loss interferes with communication and relationships. On the positive side, men with a stable, mild to moderate level of hearing loss are more likely to not let hearing loss define who they are. Hearing aids and assistive devices are merely tools. I think men may equate support groups with “talking about your feelings”, and as a result miss opportunities such as learning more about advances in technology, discovering legislation that may have an effect on hearing loss populations, and learning valuable communication strategies.

3. At the severe to profound level, men are more likely to shut people out. I can’t tell you the number of times men have told me that they alienated everyone that cared about them when their hearing loss really began to affect their lives. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism? One man wrote to me and shared, “I filed for divorce from my wife of 11 years. I felt in a panic to do it before she filed for divorce from me because I wasn’t the man she married”. One man came up to me after a workshop and said, “It’s easier to be be cranky and belligerent than to discuss with my family how my hearing loss makes me feel”. Still another shared, “I’d rather be accused of being distant than to talk about my hearing loss with her”.

4. Men are less likely to use hearing assistance dogs. Of all the people I know who chose to be partnered with a hearing assistance dog… most are women. Yes – there are some men… but my experience is that they are the minority. I believe if you are partnered with a hearing assistance dog, you have shouldered the responsibility of knowing that by doing so you will be making a potentially invisible disability very visible. Perhaps men are less likely to place their safety and trust in a canine partner? That doesn’t mean they are less likely to like dogs. (On the contrary, I am asked by more men to pet Chloe or field questions about what she does for me). The budding psychology student in me believes that men are more likely to strive to be independent of help from any avenue compared to women. What I find ironic, is that my own hearing assistance dog actually PROVIDES independence to me rather than a new dependent relationship. I think men and women simply view this very visible “assistance” in different ways.

Men in the Supportive Role

I believe men are supportive of those they care about that may have hearing loss. Many husbands attend HLAA , ALDA or AGBell meetings, conferences and conventions in support of someone they care about. However, I have heard women make complaints such as:

“He gets so frustrated that I’m still so SAD about my hearing loss!”

“He is supportive of MY problem, but does not acknowledge it is OUR problem.”

“He doesn’t mind making phone calls for me, but I can tell it frustrates him sometimes”

Women usually welcome a “helping hand” with something as intensely personal as hearing loss. They normally welcome a shared role in learning to live with the acquired disability.

Women with Hearing Loss

1. Women are more likely to “grieve” hearing loss. I think both males and females go through stages of grief when they experience hearing loss. However, I think women tend to get bogged down in depression and experiencing feelings of grief than men do. Perhaps it is because women are usually living more with their “feeler” than men do? I just know that I have heard countless testimonies of women who experienced real grief about their hearing loss. Maybe women are more likely to admit they feel sad about their hearing loss in comparison to men.

2. Women seem to need peer support groups even early in hearing loss. Not all hearing loss is progressive. However, I have been a part of a number of hearing loss support groups and traveled to visit groups across the country. Many hearing loss support groups have women who attend that have a moderate to severe hearing loss. Most of the time, the men I meet who attend these groups have a more significant loss. I think women rely on communication more than men do as a part of what holds their relationships together. When women see a threat to their relationships, they are spurred to action to seek out assistance from their peers. Women tend to flood the workshops on communication tips and will be the attendees who are taking copious notes.

3. Women tend to care about how their hearing loss affects others more than men do. Yikes. I may get “grief” for this one. Fellas? Before you send a barrage of emails to my INBOX, please note that I am not saying men do not care about how hearing loss affects the “others” in their lives. It has been my experience that women seem to be more concerned about how their hearing loss affects others… to a fault. Women can actually become bogged down in worrying about how their hearing loss is changing the lives of those around them. They may worry more about being a burden and how others “feel about them now”. A positive reaction, however, is that women are more likely to actively discover how the “others” in their lives are doing, and in the process adopt or modify communication strategies.

Women in the Supportive Role

I think communication is so important to women, that they may become NAGS to the men in their lives who have hearing loss. It is important to learn “HOW” to encourage the male in your life to seek help. Women may resort to desperate and negative measures if they see that communication has been influenced by hearing loss.

Men may attend support groups with their significant other with hearing loss as an ongoing part of their “protective/provider” role. When the male is the one with hearing loss, however, women should understand that the men in their lives may not necessarily welcome a partnership view of hearing loss. Men (especially at first) may prefer attending support groups alone so that they may continue in what they view as being independent in their role. Women should carefully choose how to discuss that support groups provide them with important information and tools as well as peer support from others who love someone with hearing loss.

As always, I welcome your input and own experiences as they relate to sex and hearing loss!

Now… for all those that saw the title of this post and thought I was going to write about something much different? You have an assignment:

Denise Portis

© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal



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