Identity effect of hearing changes: A qualitative exploration of late-deafened adults’ experiences through hearing loss & cochlear implantation
This thesis examines identity challenges presented by both hearing loss acquired as an adult, and regaining hearing through a cochlear implant. Hearing loss can challenge the understanding late-deafened adults have of themselves, while they reconcile with changes forced on them. Receiving a cochlear implant creates a different hearing status, another often unsettling challenge with a life-long commitment to technology.
Using an online survey administered through social media, with follow-up semi-structured interviews, participants answered questions about their hearing loss and cochlear implant experiences. Forty-four people answered the survey and 16 participated in an in-depth interview. A key finding was most late-deafened adults did not have access to support as their hearing changed, but when they did, positive role models helped them understand and cope with their hearing loss and sustain their identity. Furthermore, findings suggested more hearing healthcare providers need to introduce a support structure including referral to hearing rehabilitation, counselling and peer groups, to help late-deafened adults cope with their changing hearing status.
The cochlear implant decision was difficult for many because it meant accepting they were deaf, and knowing that through the implantation process they were likely to lose any residual hearing. Participants valued talking with people/mentors who already had an implant which often helped with the decision process. A cochlear implant changes hearing status and comments from most participants indicate once again they had to rethink their identity. Were they now hearing, deaf or something in between? After a cochlear implant, this research found some participants retained and strengthened their hearing identity, while others regained their previously held hearing identity. Nevertheless, some participants, after surgery, identified as deaf or disabled when they had not done so, prior to implantation.