Last week, in my article “Why I Dread My Annual Hearing Test”, I wrote about how hearing evaluations make us anxious even if – or especially if – we’ve had them before.
Comments from readers ranged from “yeah, I don’t like them either” to this: “I can’t tell you how much I HATE hearing tests! I live daily knowing just how bad my Hearing is, and hearing test is just another reminder. I get so stressed out during the test but know results are needed by my audiologist.” Like this reader, I understand that hearing tests are a necessary evil, but it feels good just to vent sometimes.
But in the midst of the chorus of grievances, Melissa Karp, an audiologist in North Caroline, responded with this: “Audiologists don’t want your hearing to decline or for you to dread coming in. What can we do to make the process less anxiety-provoking?”
We are so glad you asked, Melissa! But then I realize I’m not quite sure what can be done, so I’m putting a couple of questions to the universe. I’m inviting responses from both people with hearing loss and the professionals that serve us.
What would make us calmer before, during and after the hearing evaluation?
What would be the benefits of less anxiety? Would the test show more accurate results?
Since my cochlear implant in January 2017, hearing evaluations measure how my word recognition has improved, which does with every visit. You’d think that the positive trend would help eliminate anxiety, but the good feelings come afterward when I find that my comprehension has gone up 20% or whatever. During the test, it was the same as ever; every time I don’t understand a word or phrase or sentence and I have to give it my best guess, I experience frustration. Is that because in real life – out there, beyond the clinic doors – it’s frustrating when we mishear something, get it wrong, or give an insane answer to a misunderstood question? Those feelings of failure, no matter how small, carry over into the hearing test, when the consonants of speech are just beyond our ability to understand.
And those beeps! For those of us with tinnitus, it takes only a few seconds of beeping before our inner head noise starts singing along. Last week, in a CI mapping, the goal was to ascertain the softest sounds I could hear at various levels. My task was to identify how many beeps I heard, ranging from 1 to 4. Sometimes when I heard the beeps – they just kept on going – 5, 6, 7, 8! My brain liked that sound so much it wanted me to keep hearing it. The good news is that I did well and I have a new mapping with a better dynamic range of hearing.
But back to anxiety and the questions we need to ask.
The Pre-Test Talk: For hearing loss veterans, when we hear that it’s “time for a new test”, we groan. Clearly our audiologist thinks our hearing is worse. Or maybe we made this appointment because we haven’t been hearing so well lately and this hearing test is going to confirm our worst fears.
How can hearing professionals better prepare the client for the test; what words will help keep anxiety low? Are changes required in overall client-centered care?
The Sound Booth: We don’t like being in the sound booth. We feel separated. It’s dark in there and we don’t do dark. We feel as if we’re being examined.
What modifications to the test environment, including the booth, would help lessen the stress and still maintain the technical requirements?
I look forward to hearing from you. You can respond in the comments section below the blog (it’s down there, keep scrolling), or comment on the Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn page that you read this article.
Thanks for the feedback – I will share it!