Among the 35-45 million Americans who suffer from some detectable degree of disabling hearing loss, less than 20% of them treat their hearing loss with the seriousness it deserves and make a habit of wearing hearing aids every day. When people minimize the impact of their hearing loss or even flat out pretend that it is not happening, they are subjecting themselves to all kinds of compounding side effects. Left untreated, hearing loss will risk not only their physical safety, but also their careers and relationships, and their emotional and psychological health as well.
Although hearing loss is far more common than many people may assume, affecting almost 14% of the U.S. population over the age of 18, it is also incredibly unique among disabilities. For example, many people who suffer from hearing loss and fail to treat it, do so because they actually don’t even know that they suffer from it. Of course this may be surprising. How could someone have a disability that brings so many potential consequences along with it and not even know? Because it emerges so incredibly gradually over such a long duration, often a number of years, hearing loss can be impossible to notice.
And this is exactly why it is so important to get regular hearing exams, same as you get a physical each year or visit the dentist. There is no more accurate way to objectively know how your hearing health measures up. With appropriate treatment, hearing loss should not impact your lifestyle or potential any more significantly than wearing glasses does.
But taking responsible action does not end when you get hearing aids. Some aspects of life that everyone has to face will require an extra smidge of intentionality to accommodate your hearing loss. Take for example emergency preparedness.
Emergency Preparedness with Hearing Loss
No one is immune from disaster. Though no one enjoys thinking about it, broad denial will not protect you. Whether it is immediate and personal such as a house fire, or devastates an entire community like a tornado or wildfire, being prepared for when emergency strikes can mean the difference between life and death. Having a plan in place helps you feel calm and make smart decisions when you might feel compelled to panic. And such a plan is especially important for those with hearing loss. Knowing these resources and procedures should reassure you and your loved ones that you are prepared if disaster should strike.
Double check that you are registered for all available emergency alert systems available in your area. And double check that your contact information is all up to date. Sign up for more than one. Notifications will usually be sent via text. If your smartphone is connected to your hearing aids, you may also have the option of receiving the alert via bluetooth.
Contact your local emergency management offices to confirm that they have Reverse 911 and that they offer it via TTY. Then, in the event of an emergency, they will contact you.
Install visual fire alarms with strobe lights in your home. Mark your calendar with monthly reminders to test the batteries. This is extra important for the hearing impaired who will not hear the alarms beep to notify that their battery power is diminishing.
Communication and Planning
Be sure to have backup emergency communication systems ready to go whenever they may be needed. Examples of this include a landline phone, a battery-powered amplifier, and a battery-powered TTY phone.
Keep your Emergency Contact List handy. Besides the usual family and friends, your list should also include the numbers for your hearing healthcare professional, your devices’ companies for emergency repairs, and an interpreter if you need one.
Notify your mayor’s office and any community organizations in your area of your specific needs.
Be sure to have a couple local friends and another one far away who all know to check up on you in the event of an emergency. And update everyone of your condition and needs regularly via social media.
Your Emergency Preparedness Kit
Keep the supplies you may need ready and stored in a convenient spot. Get a couple extra power sources for your devices. Keep a month’s worth of extra hearing aid batteries. Consider investing in a portable charging pack that uses solar power or stores energy to be used as an outlet or USB charger. If you use cochlear implants, make sure that you have a portable charger for it.
Keep waterproof containers around so you can store your hearing aids in them in the event of an extreme weather situation.
A pen and paper are simple but indispensable tools for simplifying and expediting communication. You might even prepare some simple cards in advance, such as “food” or “water.”
Be sure you have a flashlight. You will need it for lip reading and sign language if you get stuck in the dark.
Taking the time to know that you have the tools you may need on hand will give you confidence in the immediate. And should an emergency strike, you will have the mental and emotional calm to respond accordingly. Make a plan today.