How can audiologists best support people with hearing conditions?

*The following article draws heavily from “Identifying the approaches used by audiologists to address the psychosocial needs of their adult clients”, written by Dr Bec Bennett and colleagues and published in the International Journal of Audiology.

Hearing conditions can have psychosocial impacts that include feelings of frustration, anger, embarrassment, inferiority, shame, stigmatisation, loss of identity, isolation, and loneliness. 

Initial emotional reactions to the diagnosis of hearing conditions often include disbelief, anger, and/or grief. After diagnosis, many people continue to experience negative emotions in response to communication difficulties, which can lead to social withdrawal and loneliness.

Clinical guidelines state that audiologists should address the psychosocial impacts of hearing conditions. However, psychosocial support is rarely provided. A recent study led by Dr Bec Bennett found that almost half of the participant audiologists reported actions that only addressed audiological symptoms, and not the psychosocial or psychological issues. In relation to this, another study found that two thirds of audiologists felt underconfident and lacking the skills to provide emotional support. 

There is a potential for audiologists to play an important role in the early detection of mental health concerns in people with hearing conditions, to provide resources for support services, and to work with medical and mental health practitioners to improve early intervention. Audiologists can better support people with hearing conditions in several ways:

  • Adopting a person-centred approach to clinical practice by acknowledging the person’s experiences, priorities, and fears. This can include (1) exploring their psychosocial needs, (2) collaborative problem-solving, (3) shared decision making, and (4) highlighting previous wins, such as moments of successful social connectedness, that the person can draw from moving forward.
  • Encouraging the person to be an active participant in their health care, working in partnership with the audiologist in order to design a rehabilitation process that addresses their individual needs.
  • Facilitating peer and other professional support. This can involve use of group audiological rehabilitation, participation in peer-support and community groups, and/or referral to mental health professionals.
  • Involving the person’s partner and/or family by actively inviting their participation, educating them directly, and developing shared goals to address the psychosocial impact of the person’s hearing condition.

If you’d like to learn more about how to best support people with hearing conditions, check out our resources.

Source: Rebecca J. Bennett, Caitlin Barr, Joseph Montano, Robert H. Eikelboom, Gabrielle H. Saunders, Marieke Pronk, Jill E. Preminger, Melanie Ferguson, Barbara Weinstein, Eithne Heffernan, Lisette van Leeuwen, Louise Hickson, Barbra H. B. Timmer, Gurjit Singh, Daniel Gerace, Alex Cortis & Sandra R. Bellekom (2020) Identifying the approaches used by audiologists to address the psychosocial needs of their adult clients, International Journal of Audiology, DOI: 10.1080/14992027.2020.1817995