Myth or fact: if you have hearing loss, do your other senses compensate?

 

Is your eyesight more highly developed if you are deaf? Do blind people have a highly developed sense of hearing?

Intuitively, most of us know that can’t be true. I know people who are blind that have hearing aids. People with hearing loss wear glasses. My normally-hearing husband can spot bald eagles long before I do. (I smell brownies and pancakes burning before he does—but maybe that’s a highly developed affinity for food?)

Columnist Rich Maloof wrote: “generally speaking, the idea [that another sense will compensate] springs from one part assumption, one part anecdotal evidence, and perhaps one small part guilt: we like to think those who lack a sense that so richly informs our lives are able to make up the difference.”

Actually, research confirms that people who are deaf have better peripheral vision.   Being deaf doesn’t mean that all aspects of vision are better—but some aspects, such as visual attention, are heightened. Detecting objects in slow motion is another heightened skill.

All of the research studies above inform us about deafness—and deafness from birth, or during the first few years of life. 

What about people with hearing loss, who are not deaf? Or people who become deaf later in life? I couldn’t find any research studies that answer these questions.

But my gut tells me that yes, we do use our peripheral vision. Rather, we need to use our peripheral vision (especially if you like to exercise without your hearing aids/cochlear implants, like Gael Hannen and Peter Stelmacovich).

It’s all academic anyway. The real point is, ( à la Gael Hannen) —vision might not necessarily improve because of hearing loss –we just depend on it more. 

It makes sense to use everything you’ve got. If you have hearing loss, but have not formally received lipreading instruction, I highly recommend doing so. Visual cues can increase our understanding by as much as twenty percent. 

Speaking of myths, people assume that when you have hearing loss, you naturally, and automatically, learn to lip-read. Research tells us that this is not true. Lip-reading is a skill—and like any skill, we vary in our ability to do it well. 

And like any skill—practice helps. 

Interested in getting started? See lipreading instruction.

 

Related information:  I’ll read your lips, you read mine (Gael Hannan)

Mindset and hearing loss

 

Sandra Vandenhoff is an audiologist with hearing loss, founder  of HEARa, Hearing Strategies coach, speaker, and Canadian author, who loves to teach lipreading (it is a ton of fun!).   

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