Revealing Hearing Loss: A Survey of How People Verbally Disclose Their Hearing Loss.

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Hearing loss is the most common sensory deficit and congenital anomaly, yet the decision-making processes involved in disclosing hearing loss have been little studied. To address this issue, we have explored the phrases that adults with hearing loss use to disclose their hearing loss.


Since self-disclosure research has not focused on hearing loss-specific issues, we created a 15-question survey about verbally disclosing hearing loss. English speaking adults (>18 years old) with hearing loss of any etiology were recruited from otology clinics in a major referral hospital. Three hundred and thirty-seven participants completed the survey instrument. Participants' phrase(s) used to tell people they have hearing loss were compared across objective characteristics (age; sex; type, degree, and laterality of hearing loss; word recognition scores) and self-reported characteristics (degree of hearing loss; age of onset and years lived with hearing loss; use of technology; hearing handicap score).


Participants' responses revealed three strategies to address hearing loss: Multipurpose disclosure (phrases that disclose hearing loss and provide information to facilitate communication), Basic disclosure (phrases that disclose hearing loss through the term, a label, or details about the condition), or nondisclosure (phrases that do not disclose hearing loss). Variables were compared between patients who used and who did not use each disclosure strategy using χ or Wilcoxon rank sum tests. Multipurpose disclosers were mostly female (p = 0.002); had experienced reactions of help, support, and accommodation after disclosing (p = 0.008); and had experienced reactions of being overly helpful after disclosing (p=0.039). Basic disclosers were predominantly male (p = 0.004); reported feeling somewhat more comfortable disclosing their hearing loss over time (p = 0.009); had not experienced reactions of being treated unfairly or discriminated against (p = 0.021); and were diagnosed with mixed hearing loss (p = 0.004). Nondisclosers tended not to disclose in a group setting (p = 0.002) and were diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss (p = 0.005). In addition, all of the variables were examined to build logistic regression models to predict the use of each disclosure strategy.


Our results reveal three simple strategies for verbally addressing hearing loss that can be used in a variety of contexts. We recommend educating people with hearing loss about these strategies-this could improve the experience of disclosing hearing loss, and could educate society at large about how to interact with those who have a hearing loss.





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West, Jessica S, Jacob CM Low and Konstantina M Stankovic (2016). Revealing Hearing Loss: A Survey of How People Verbally Disclose Their Hearing Loss. Ear and hearing, 37(2). pp. 194–205. 10.1097/aud.0000000000000238 Retrieved from

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Jessica Sayles West

Medical Instructor in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences

Jessica is a medical sociologist who specializes in research on hearing loss, aging, and health disparities over the life course. Jessica’s work has described the “spillover” effects of hearing loss on health outcomes for both individuals and those close to them, as well as sociodemographic disparities in the onset of and life expectancy with hearing loss. Her research, which leverages both population-level data and electronic health record data, has appeared in the Journals of Gerontology, Social Science & Medicine, Ear and Hearing, and other leading journals in medical sociology, hearing, and aging research.

Jessica received a B.A. from the University of Michigan in Social Anthropology (dual Sociology/Anthropology concentration) followed by an M.P.H. in Sociomedical Sciences with a certificate in Public Health Research Methods from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She subsequently received an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology with a focus in Medical Sociology and Demography at Duke University. She then completed an NIA T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Duke University Aging Center under the mentorship of Matthew E. Dupre, Ph.D. (Population Health Sciences) and Sherri L. Smith, Au.D., Ph.D. (Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences).

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