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How to overcome some of the emotional and societal costs of hearing loss

costs of hearing loss

Living with any disability comes with a particular set of challenges, many of which are immediately obvious. It also comes with costs and challenges, that are not so obvious. 

Here in South Africa, different groups of people experience a “tax” due to the effects of apartheid. Not a literal economic tax, but rather a “tax” in society. Having grown up in South Africa and seen these implications, I have noticed that there is also a “disability tax”.  Not just in South Africa, but all around the world. So with that more contemporary framework in mind, I’d like to talk about the “disability tax” and its implications. More specifically the different costs of hearing loss. This is not meant to be a rant about how we’re victims and the world needs to change to suit us. Rather, it is an exercise in raising awareness of the challenges we face and helping others to know how to help us overcome them.

Hearing aids and other hearing technology maintenance 

Okay, to be fair, this one may initially seem obvious. To function in regular mainstream society, many of us need some kind of hearing aids. It marks us out, means we have to go in for fitting, all that obvious stuff. 

The reason I include this specifically is because there are hidden costs that most people don’t think of when it comes to running and maintaining hearing aids.

“The reason I include this, specifically is because there are hidden costs that most people don’t think of when it comes to running and maintaining hearing aids.”

I’m sure most readers would be able to do some quick maths and give me a ballpark figure on how much they spend on batteries every year. For my wife and I, that’s around 1 percent of our gross annual earning, assuming every battery lasts a full week. 

Again, I’m sure most of you know they often don’t! With Durban’s humidity and my regular Ruby training sessions, sweat sometimes still gets in my Naida Q50. This causes the battery to die more quickly.

Then you still need earmolds, regular maintenance check-ups, regular adjustments as your hearing levels change and so on. The cost of many of those things might not just be measured in cash, but they certainly do cost time. There is the drive to your audiologist and the half-hour spent waiting for the ear impressions to harden. Then returning to pick up the completed product, how do the hours stack up in the long run?

Another aspect of this to consider is how your country handles medical assistance. Each country covers their own portion (or none) or hearing aids. For me in South Africa, my insurance only covered 60 percent of the cost of my current hearing aids. My wife had to fight to have her second hearing aid covered. It can be tough.

I think this is the biggest part of the “disability tax” that we’d like others to be aware of, simply because of how much of our lives it takes up and how hidden most of the costs can be.

How to lessen the impact of this aspect of the ‘disability tax’

1) Plan ahead hearing aid maintenance and audiology appointments regularly

Try to ensure that you schedule regular checkups and maintenance so that you can plan around them as part of a bigger schedule – which will also make it less likely that you’ll be faced with unexpected emergencies when it comes to your hearing health and maintenance of your hearing aids

2) Put your health first in your budget

When working out your budget, medical cover should be one of the first things you put down in your budget (right after saving, which the experts say is the FIRST thing you should always put down!) This is of paramount importance if you’re working in any kind of field where your hearing is needed – heck, even where just being able to communicate orally is an advantage. If you can’t get medical cover or enough medical cover with the systems in place in your country, dedicate part of your savings to your hearing and ring-fence it so you don’t spend it on other things!

3) Research what you might be able to do to recover costs

It’s not unlikely that you’ll be able to get some form of tax credits back where you take on the responsibility for your own health – here in South Africa, I can claim back the cost of my batteries and something of the cost of my equipment through tax returns, as by funding myself and contributing to society, I’m not a burden to the taxpayer.

Time costs

I’ve made some mention of this above, but think about it – hearing loss costs us time. Everything from those extra seconds spent getting someone to repeat themselves to the travel time to get to your audiologist adds up.

We also lose hours spent in environments where we can’t hear and don’t really get much else out of it – ever sat through a meeting or a family gathering that dragged on and on, and not been able to pick out anything of value from afterward? There’s a joke shirt available out there that has “I survived another meeting that should have been an email” that I’m sure will resonate with many of us because of the ones that go exactly like that.

Losing time can be one of the most hard-hitting things about living with hearing loss if you really think about it.

Limit the effects of this aspect of the ‘disability tax’ by:

1)  Planning those trips for checkups and maintenance to coincide with other things

Meet a friend for lunch afterward, take your mom out for a coffee date, do something worthwhile in the area with the trip! Of course, if you live near to where your audiologist works, this becomes less of an issue.

2) State your communication needs right away

Communicate using email and other text-based applications as much as possible – your co-workers may thank you for reducing the number of meetings needed! Seriously, stand up for yourself.

3) Choose out quiet places to meet with friends or family 

Also, try to make sure that you do so with small groups at most where possible. Family can be more difficult when it comes to this, especially if you have a large family like mine, but planning visits with just one part of the family at a time can make it easier to deal with the big family gatherings you can’t avoid, as everyone should become more sensitive to your needs the more time you spend with them. Alternatively, move to the Bahamas, become a pirate, sever all family ties, and claim that your hearing loss came about due to a misfiring cannon. You can’t lose!

Emotional Costs

“Never mind”, “I’ll tell you later”, “It’s not important” – how frustrating are those words to hear? In my last article, I wrote about how isolation can be such a tough thing to deal with. Missing out on hearing things and the frustrations that come with it can be one of the biggest contributors to feeling isolated.

Read more: Never Mind: How to Handle Communication in Groups

My teen years were an endless cycle of me feeling like I was different from everyone else, left out of a lot of things that my peers did. I have very few friends left from that part of my life, who have stuck by me through thick and thin.

Getting tested and poked and prodded from a medical point of view has also left me with a severe phobia of needles (hey, at least as an international sportsman, I’m safe from most illegal performance-enhancing substances because of it, right?). I hate going to doctors or anywhere near hospitals, except for going to my audiologist. There, at least, I’ve always been lucky to get warm, friendly, genuine people with a degree of understanding treating me. 

“I hate going to doctors or anywhere near hospitals, except for going to my audiologist.” 

For me, personally, one of the things I struggle with most is getting opportunities on the rugby field when dealing with new teams or coaches. I’ve played internationally, but sometimes struggle to make a 3rd XV side even when I’ve worked twice as hard as other players (The season where I discovered Deaf rugby, I was literally doing double the training any other player at my club did, and still wasn’t selected for the squad at any point during the season).

How to combat any isolation we experience from hearing loss

 1) Get out, make friends, use your hobbies and interests to bridge the gap

Seriously, shared interests are more powerful to bring you together with others than your hearing loss will EVER be to push you apart.

2) Be active in your own life

Set goals for yourself and challenges. Act, don’t react. You can either drive your own life or be a passenger and let life control you.

3) Keep the deaf community in narratives

With the rise of #deaftalent and more deaf representation in the media, we can add even more to that.Write your own Deaf characters into your own stories! We live it, after all, so we can make the stories that much more authentic.

How do you deal with some of the emotional and societal costs that come with hearing loss? Let us know in the comments.

Author Details
Mark was discovered to have severe hearing loss – total loss in his left ear, severe in the right – at the age of 3, owing to a Cytomegalovirus infection. He grew up as part of the mainstream community, and only started regularly wearing hearing aids at the age of 15, when his hearing loss dropped to profound levels. Rugby has always been a passion of his, and he’s never stopped playing since getting his first opportunity in high school. His greatest claim to fame is playing for the South African Deaf Rugby team, a position he also uses to advocate for the Deaf community. However, he is afflicted with an interest in anything and everything, which manifests in limitless Star Wars puns, comments on the things making up the fabric of society, requests for your favourite banana bread recipes, a predilection for painting 28mm sci-fi models and the inability to fit into any of the proverbial descriptive “boxes” society likes to place people in. He currently lives in Durban with his wife, Amy.