5 – Effects on Communication and Online Simulators

Effects of Hearing Loss on Communication 

Describing all the harmful effects on communication of hearing loss is not really possible, because each person and the individuals with whom they interact will have unique situations. With this in mind, there is much research to indicate that many people with hearing loss face the following problems.

First and foremost is the loss of access to a clear auditory signal and a change in the way that person must interact with his or her environment. If the hearing loss has an onset in adulthood, this feeling is typically more acute because they have had normal hearing for a long time.

Next, people with hearing loss will experience frustration, as will their communication partners, due to the increased effort needed to carry on conversations. Further, the individual and communication partners, particularly family members, will need to learn new communication styles that often are not intuitive and can cause disruptions in relationships.

See additional effects that hearing loss may have on individuals.

Important Aspects of Hearing Loss

Individuals who have conductive hearing loss often report great satisfaction with hearing aids. Hearing aids essentially ‘turn up the volume’, and once this happens for someone with conductive hearing loss, they are quite happy.

However, hearing loss of cochlear origin (called either sensorineural or sensory hearing loss) does not lend itself quite so well to amelioration through personal amplification. Cochlear hearing loss can be thought of as having two aspects. The first is the most common one that we think of with the term “hearing loss”, which is, people are less sensitive to sound.

By far the most common complaint of individuals with cochlear-based hearing loss is that they are unable to understand in a noisy background. They generally are aware that speech is occurring, but they simply cannot make out what is being said. A similar situation happens when one is trying to read without necessary glasses. You know there are words on the page, but the print is simply too blurry to make them out.

The preceding paragraph represents the second aspect of cochlear hearing loss and has been labeled “distortion.” The two main areas that are affected by cochlear hearing loss have to do with an inability to tell frequencies apart and a loss of being able to distinguish timing information. Both of these skills are important in understanding speech because speech constantly changes frequency over time. In addition, these skills become even more important when we are listening in a noisy background. So, when these are negatively impacted by cochlear hearing loss, understanding speech in a noisy background becomes very difficult.

Unfortunately, whereas optometrists and opticians can manufacture eyeglasses that can almost totally restore clear vision, the same cannot be done with hearing aids. This situation happens because though most people with cochlear hearing loss experience problems with frequency discrimination and/or timing information, people will manifest different problems with each of these skills. Hearing aids are programmed to address various aspects of the frequency and timing skills that we know are important for speech understanding, and  that programming is usually quite helpful.

Online Hearing Loss Simulators

If you do not have any hearing problems, it is perhaps difficult to appreciate what someone with hearing loss experiences on a daily basis. What does hearing loss ‘sound like’? The following links provide hearing loss simulations of varying degrees of hearing loss both with and without a noisy background. Listening to a few examples will provide an idea of what listeners with mild or moderate hearing loss live with on a daily basis. Remember that these are mild or moderate hearing losses; many individuals will come to Vocational Rehabilitation with severe or profound hearing loss, too. The ‘distortion’ aspect of hearing loss has proven hard to incorporate in simulators and does not appear in any of these simulator examples, but the effect of any of the simulators below is still startling.