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Reflections of the voices of hearing impaired

Read time: 3 mins

Illustration: Siddharth Kankaria / Research Matters


The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss. This is the second most common type of disability after loco-motor disability (reduced movement of limbs due to disability of the bones, joint or muscles). Fortunately, there exist many initiatives and technological solutions like hearing aids to enable such people lead a comfortable life. But how have these measures impacted the lives of people living with hearing disability?

A new study by an international team of researchers has begun to evaluate the outcomes of using a hearing aid in adults with hearing loss. Hosted in India, this study is being carried out with the support of Audiology India, an NGO based in Mysore, Karnataka. The study has three phases – development of contextually and linguistically suitable tools to measure outcomes (e.g., questionnaires), testing the reliability and validity of these tools on people with hearing loss and assessment of the outcomes using these validated measures. “This research project has given us an opportunity to better understand the lives of persons with hearing loss in developing countries like India”, says Ms. Spoorthi Thammaiah, a senior audiologist from Audiology India.

Most of such studies in the past have been carried out in countries where English is the primary spoken language. The study led by Ms. Thammaiah and colleagues involves individuals with hearing loss, speaking the south Indian language Kannada. As a part of this study, commonly used English questionnaires were first translated to Kannada and then tested for validity. Using those standard questionnaires, information on various aspects related to people with hearing loss including their emotional distress, social withdrawal, communication ability, participation restriction in daily life activities and so on would be assessed both before and after they start using hearing aids. This helps in getting a clearer picture on how much change does hearing aid use bring in lives of persons with hearing loss.

But why is an international team, including researchers from India, Texas, Hong Kong and Canada, involved in a study with a local context? “The ideology behind having such a cross border team is to have a wider perspective towards the topic being studied. This could foster a mutual learning experience. The goal of this working group is to gain insight into the impact of hearing rehabilitation on individuals with hearing loss”, explains Ms. Thammaiah.

The responses gathered by the researchers in this study paint a grim picture of lives of those living with hearing loss. “During this study, the participants often described how hearing loss and the use of hearing aids has affected their lives. Many of them talked about how their interaction with family members, relatives and friends has worsened after losing their hearing. Shockingly, few even reported about suicidal tendencies”, reveals Ms. Thammaiah.

One could guess that use of assistive technologies like hearing aids could help get back their hearing. Although hearing aids amplify sounds and help the individuals with hearing loss hear better, widespread use is limited. “Social stigma remains to be one of the top reasons for hesitation to use hearing aids in India. Many who used hearing aids narrated their experiences on discrimination they faced at their work place”, remarks Ms. Thammaiah.

The researchers hope that the inputs gathered during the study will help them draw clear conclusions on the positive and negative changes in lives of those affected with hearing disabilities after using hearing aids. “Overall, these stories have made it clear that our society could benefit from an increase in positive attitude and acceptance of individuals with hearing loss and hearing aids”, says Ms. Thammaiah, recollecting her experience.