Disclosure strategies may improve communication for those with hearing loss

December 02, 2015

Hearing loss disclosureContact: Suzanne Day, Office of Communications

Boston, Mass. — Massachusetts Eye and Ear researchers surveyed 337 patients with hearing loss to better understand the language they use with communication partners to disclose their disability. Their findings, published online in the journal Ear and Hearing on October 28, 2015, may be used to develop resources for health care professionals to provide their patients with strategies to disclose hearing loss successfully and effectively in interactions with others.

“Health care providers are in a key position to help patients learn how to disclose their hearing loss,” said senior author Konstantina M. Stankovic, M.D., Ph.D., FACS, an otologic surgeon and researcher at Mass. Eye and Ear and an associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School. “We can educate them on the disclosure strategies we report on in our study, which may help them gain the confidence they need to disclose their hearing loss and improve communication with others.”

The researchers created a survey designed to gather actual phrases that patients have used to let others know that they have a hearing disability. First author Jessica S. West, M.P.H., a sociologist at Duke University, analyzed the respondents’ answers and codified the responses into three major categories, formalizing these strategies for verbally addressing hearing loss for the first time:

  • basic disclosure, to describe those who disclose that they have hearing loss and perhaps also share details about their condition;
    Example: I’m partially deaf due to an infection I had years ago.
  • nondisclosure, to describe those who do not disclose their hearing loss and/or use phrases that normal hearing people may use;
    Example: I can’t hear you. Please speak up.
  • multipurpose disclosure, to describe those who disclose hearing loss and also suggest an accommodation strategy;
    Example: I don’t hear as well out of my right ear. Please walk on my left side.

The findings have motivated the researchers to begin developing a resource guide to help health care providers better prepare their patients for social situations to avoid the isolation that is all too common for people with hearing loss and other communication disabilities.

“We think it can be empowering for patients to know that these strategies, and especially the multipurpose disclosure strategy, are available to them,” Dr. Stankovic said. “Hearing loss is an invisible disability; however, asking people to slow down or face someone with hearing loss while speaking may improve communication.”

This study represents a collaborative effort between researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School and Duke University. Authors include Konstantina M. Stankovic, M.D., Ph.D., FACS, of Mass. Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, Jessica S. West, M.P.H., of Mass. Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School and Duke University, and Jacob C. M. Low, of Mass. Eye and Ear.

About Massachusetts Eye and Ear
Mass. Eye and Ear clinicians and scientists are driven by a mission to find cures for blindness, deafness and diseases of the head and neck. Now united with Schepens Eye Research Institute, Mass. Eye and Ear is the world's largest vision and hearing research center, developing new treatments and cures through discovery and innovation. Mass. Eye and Ear is a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and trains future medical leaders in ophthalmology and otolaryngology, through residency as well as clinical and research fellowships. Internationally acclaimed since its founding in 1824, Mass. Eye and Ear employs full-time, board-certified physicians who offer high-quality and affordable specialty care that ranges from the routine to the very complex. U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hospitals Survey” ranked the Mass. Eye and Ear Department of Otolaryngology as number one in the nation this year. For more information about life-changing care and research, or to learn how you can help, please visit MassEyeAndEar.org.