Saturday, January 3, 2015

What to do when a state of denial becomes undeniable

“No, I’m not in denial,” I said.

But I was – and the subject was my hearing. My wife had suggested numerous times that I was getting hard of hearing but I denied it. I thought I could hear fine, even though the person closest to me was telling me otherwise.

This blog is about denial, specifically denial about hearing loss, one of several forms of denial that I have been guilty of (more to come in the next several blogs.) I’m writing about denial because it is one of the biggest barriers to rebooting and reinvention. And I also will be writing about how to get out of this unfortunate state.

Hearing loss common in older adults

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), age-related hearing loss gradually occurs in most of us as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults. 

“Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing,” says the NIDCD’s website. “Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, respond to warnings, and hear phones, doorbells, and smoke alarms. Hearing loss can also make it hard to enjoy talking with family and friends, leading to feelings of isolation. 

“Age-related hearing loss most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally. Because the loss is gradual, if you have age-related hearing loss you may not realize that you’ve lost some of your ability to hear. 

Brought up short

“There are many causes of age-related hearing loss. Most commonly, it arises from changes in the inner ear as we age, but it can also result from changes in the middle ear, or from complex changes along the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain. Certain medical conditions and medications may also play a role.”

Whatever the cause in my case, the incident that brought me up short (and out of denial) was when a co-worker asked me one day if I had a hearing disorder. She said she had noticed that I seemed to miss some things in telephone conference calls. To my embarrassment, I had to acknowledge that I did indeed have some hearing loss and would get a checkup. I also had to admit to my wife that she had been right, both about my hearing and about being in denial. 

I went through the process of being tested and fitted for hearing aids. That was almost 10 years ago and I have been wearing them ever since. Of course I can hear much more clearly now and have moved past the social stigma of having them in my ears.

What to do about it

If you think you have hearing loss, and are in denial about it, there are steps you can take to get out of this double bind. Here’s what the NIDCD advises:

“The most important thing you can do is to seek advice from a health care provider. There are several types of professionals who can help you. You might want to start with your primary care physician, an otolaryngologist, an audiologist, or a hearing aid specialist. Each has a different type of training and expertise. Each can be an important part of your hearing health care. 

“An otolaryngologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ear, nose, throat, and neck. An otolaryngologist, sometimes called an ENT, will try to find out why you’re having trouble hearing and offer treatment options. He or she may also refer you to another hearing professional, an audiologist. 

“An audiologist has specialized training in identifying and measuring the type and degree of hearing loss. Some audiologists may be licensed to fit hearing aids.

“A hearing aid specialist is someone who is licensed by your state to conduct and evaluate basic hearing tests, offer counseling, and fit and test hearing aids. You must be examined by a physician before you can be fitted for a hearing aid, although federal law allows you to sign a waiver if you don’t wish to be examined before you purchase an aid.”

We’re going to talk about other denial traps, including rebooting denial, how they can come to define us, and how to get out of them. So stay tuned. And you might want to take notes!