Acquired Hearing Impairment in Older Couple Relationships: an Exploration of Couple Resilience Processes

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Virginia Tech


Adults may acquire a hearing impairment through natural aging processes (presbycusis), exposure to loud noises, illnesses (e.g., Meniere's disease), and hereditary factors. Because hearing loss affects basic communication processes, couples often have to adjust their ways of interacting when one spouse develops a hearing loss. Extant literature presents relevant information about couple relationships in later life, individual adaptation to a hearing loss, and couple relationships where one spouse has a hearing loss. The current study was conducted to explore couple resilience processes.

The family resilience theoretical framework guided this study (Ganong & Coleman, 2002; Walsh, 1996), with an emphasis on meaning that couples give to their experiences. The interaction of belief systems was explored in connection with resilience processes and the development of couple relationships. Qualitative semi-structured interviews with couples was the main method of data collection. Couples were recruited through audiologists and through a snowball sampling method. At least one partner was 60 years of age or older. Audiograms were requested from audiologists, and couples completed a marital satisfaction scale.

Themes describing meaning and resilience processes emerged from interviews with eight couples in which one spouse was hearing-impaired.

Themes related to meaning included couples' acceptance of the hearing loss, and demonstrations of the beliefs and values regarding their loss such as optimism, humor, gratitude, and pleasure through hearing. Couples reported having confidence in their communication skills. They also said that models of resilience, assistive listening devices, and faith in God, helped them to adapt to hearing loss stressors. Couples demonstrated healthy spousal caregiving relationships during the interviews.

A focus group with marriage and family therapists (MFTs) was conducted to obtain clinical interpretations of the themes that emerged from the couple interviews. Clinicians' responses focused on couple relationship dynamics, possible clinical situations with these couples, and the therapist/client relationship.

Many couples facing the hearing impairment of one spouse are living resilient lives together. However, there are likely many that are struggling. Implications for audiologists and MFTs are shared. As professionals are informed about the often unspoken and unheard stories relating to hearing loss, they can then serve with greater knowledge, empathy, and hope.



Family Therapy, Audiology, Aging, Resilience, Hearing Loss, Coping