Purpose: Hearing loss is one of the common chronic conditions in older adults. In audiology literature several studies have looked into attitudes and behavior of people with hearing loss, however, not much is known about how society in general thinks about hearing loss. This study was aimed at understanding the social representation of ‘hearing loss’ and ‘hearing aids’ in general public in countries India, Iran, Portugal, UK and USA.
Method: The study involved cross-sectional design with snowball sampling participant recruit method. A total of 404 people from five countries participated in the study. Data were collected using the free association task where participants were asked to produce up to five words or phrases that come to their mind when think about ‘hearing loss’ and ‘hearing aids’. In addition, they were also asked to indicate if each word they presented has positive, neutral or negative associations in their view. Data were analyzed using various qualitative and quantitative methods.
Results: The most frequently occurring categories for hearing loss, included: assessment and management; causes of hearing loss; communication difficulties; disability; hearing ability or disability; hearing instruments; negative mental state; others attitude; and sound and acoustics of the environment. Some categories were reported with similar frequency on most countries (e.g., causes of hearing loss, communication difficulties and negative mental state), whereas others differed among countries. Participants in India reported significantly more positive and less negative association when compared to participants from Iran, Portugal and UK. The most frequently occurring categories for hearing aids, included: hearing instruments; appearance and design; improved hearing and communication; and assessment and management. There were no statistically significant differences observed among countries for positive, negative and neutral association reported about hearing aids.
Conclusions: These findings provide useful insights into public perception of ‘hearing loss’ and ‘hearing aids’ and may be useful in public education and counseling.