October 7, 2019

Hearing Health… Changing Minds Takes Time

Better Hearing is in the Mind. Nudge Theory

Every time we think we’re making headway in the acceptance of hearing health as part of our general wellbeing and that seeking assistance with our hearing is also normal and something to be embraced, something comes to slap us down.

Here’s a paraphrased note we received recently. It came from a mother in her late 30s and it said simply:

“I quit my job in April, which was the place where I needed the most help with my hearing.  So, now I don’t feel the urge to wear hearing aids and hopefully, I never will.” 

Even in this brief sentence, her deep emotion is clear – she can’t think of anything worse that can happen to her than to wear a hearing aid! As we embark on a new decade it’s, frankly, depressing that this age-old, outdated view still proliferates and in someone so young. And it’s especially dispiriting for us.

Academics have long analysed how we act in a given situation and there are many traits which have been identified. An individual’s behaviour is not always in alignment with their intentions. It is common knowledge that we are not fully rational beings – even when we’re aware that our actions may not be in our best interests.

There is a disconnect in our minds. We seem to stall at hearing and give little credence to the detrimental effect not hearing has on executive function in the brain, the skills every person uses in order to process and act on incoming information. The 8 key executive functions: impulse control, emotional control, flexible thinking, working memory, self-monitoring, planning and prioritizing, task initiation, and organization are all fuelled by being able to hear sound. Once transmitted to the brain, we engage the highly skilled and complex process of listening: analysing, comprehending, untangling and assigning meaning to sound. Crucially, reduced hearing affects executive function making us age early and before our time.

Our clients never describe their problem as “I’m not hearing sound” instead they say:

“I can’t understand my family when we’re sitting around the table.”

They say: “I dread going to restaurants with my friends because it‘s too much effort to try and concentrate on the conversation.”

They say: “My personality is changing. I used to be in the centre of things, the life and soul of the party, but I just can’t do it anymore. It’s too tiring so I’d rather stay at home.”

They say: “I’m becoming isolated and withdrawn.”

They say: “I can’t take part in meetings. People don’t talk to me at work because if I don’t answer them they think I’m being aloof.”

In other words – they describe things which make us feel rotten about ourselves.

Hearing well is not one of life’s optional extras. Hearing is the life-affirming, life-enriching and life-saving sense. It’s socially engaging and economically improving. It supports our mental and physical health. It helps us to stay in the game for longer. It keeps us younger, for longer.

Our sense of hearing links us with the world around us, connects us to other people and provides us with opportunities to learn, hear, listen and laugh. If you don’t hear well, you can miss important warning and danger sounds as well as the pleasure and rewards of connecting with others – especially one’s children.

Hearing well can enrich your life, allowing you to enjoy the accomplishments of your family. The research evidence is overwhelming in supporting the amazing benefits our sense of hearing presents to us and at the same time keeping the effects of ageing at bay. We all want to maintain our youthfulness and importance in the world and our hearing is fundamental in providing this.

The reasoning behind the attitude expressed in the highlighted letter at the start of this article are, in our experience, caused simply by people’s subconscious misperceptions of what it means to hear less well how others view us.

This, without doubt, comes from within. It’s that person’s issue, not society’s. And it’s an outdated and blinkered view.

Hearing Health and Nudge Theory

The Nudge Theory has been described by behavioural scientists as a method to understand how people think, make decisions, and behave; helping people improve their thinking and decisions; managing change of all sorts as well as identifying and modifying existing unhelpful influences on people.

We’d like to challenge these Nudge scientists to look at how people’s negative views about hearing and hearing aids can be influenced in a more positive way.

Here’s an example; A Swedish train station was becoming too crowded as everyone used the escalators rather than the stairs during the rush hour. Some behavioural scientists looked at what they could suggest to nudge people’s behaviour to reduce the overcrowding. The experiment was a huge success. You can see this Nudge theory in action by clicking this link.

Perhaps we can do the same as audiologists and alter people’s behaviour in a positive way. We can provide all the evidence in the world why it’s in your best interest to take care of your hearing needs, but we don’t always do what’s good for us.

So perhaps we just need a little nudge.

As for us at Hearing Healthcare Practice, we won’t give up working to changing minds.

We just need to try even harder.

Onwards and upwards.