Inside Out: Considering Emotions in the Management of Hearing Loss

By Lori Rakita, Au.D., Phonak Senior Manager of Clinical Research

Anyone who works or interacts with individuals experiencing some degree of hearing loss can see the relationship between hearing loss and emotions. This relationship can be evident in the audiology office and in everyday life.

Hearing loss, both sudden and gradual, can play a significant role on relationships due to the loss of audibility, and can impact feelings of independence and self-confidence. Emotion is a significant aspect of the hearing care journey for both the individual with hearing loss and their families.

Recognition, Feeling and Hearing Loss

Typically the first idea that comes to mind when mentioning the relationship between “hearing loss” and “emotion” is the way hearing loss makes people feel about themselves and those around them.

Recently, research in the area of hearing loss and emotion has revealed other connections between hearing loss and emotions which may be less obvious when sitting down with patients and their families in the office. These connections are specifically related to two domains of emotions.

  1. The first is emotion recognition, or the ability to recognize the emotion a communicative partner is conveying. As an example, if a family member is angry, does the individual with hearing loss know that his or her conversation partner angry?
  2. The second domain of emotion is what the individual with hearing loss is feeling in response to sounds in the environment. Are these emotional reactions the same as normal-hearing individuals?

The ability to recognize emotion and experience emotion in appropriate ways are essential skills for social relationships and well-being. Having social relationships directly impacts happiness1(Bertara, 2005), success2(Martin, 2009), and even physical health3(House, 1988). It follows, then, that disruption of emotional interpretation or recognition can significantly impact quality of life.

Identifying Emotion With Hearing Loss

In the area of emotion recognition, Goy et al. (2016)4and a study at the Phonak Audiology Research Center (PARC) found that older individuals with hearing loss had significant difficulty in identifying emotion as conveyed by a talker, compared to older adults with normal or near-normal hearing.

The graph below shows the percent of emotions correctly identified by individuals with mild hearing loss (black) and moderate hearing loss (green) in the study conducted at PARC.

Identifying Emotion With Hearing Loss

A Reduction in Emotional Range

In the area of emotional experience, a follow-up study on emotions at PARC investigated ratings of “pleasantness” for hearing impaired listeners in response to everyday sounds.

Individuals with hearing loss showed a lower average “pleasantness” rating in response to the environmental sounds, shown in the graph below.

Identifying Emotion With Hearing Loss-2

Looking Beyond the Hearing Aid

The results of these aforementioned studies demonstrate some key considerations for hearing healthcare providers. Given that emotions can potentially be disrupted in conjunction with hearing loss, it is important that providers are aware and include these topics in counseling.

Further, the disruption of these emotional constructs can affect family dynamics, so it is essential to include the family in discussions on these topics.

The Phonak Family Centered Careinitiative speaks to this type of approach to hearing healthcare. In this approach, both the needs of the patient and family members are recognized, and aspects “beyond” the hearing loss should be included in these discussions.

Other Articles of Interest

Emotion and reason in hearing healthcare

Emotion in speech — words are not enough


  1. Bertera, E. M. (2005). Mental health in US adults: The role of social support and social negativity in personal relationships.Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,22(3), 3–48.
  2. Goy, H., Pichora-Fuller, K., Singh, G., & Russo, F. (2016). Perception of emotional speech by listeners with hearing aids. Canadian Acoustics.  Vol 44, No 3.
  3.  House, James S; Landis, Karl R; Umberson, Debra. Social Relationships and Health.  Science; Washington241.4865 (Jul 29, 1988): 540.