This study had two aims: (1) to describe the extent of third-party disability in a sample of spouses of older people with hearing impairment, and (2) to investigate factors associated with third-party hearing disability. Third-party disability is defined as the disability and functioning of family members as a result of the health condition of their significant other.
One hundred older spouses who had partners with hearing impairment participated. All assessments were self-reported, and included a set of measures (the 36-item Significant Other Scale for Hearing Disability, SOS-HEAR; the Relationship Assessment Scale; and the Significant Other Assessment of Communication) administered to the target population of normally hearing older spouses, and those administered to the hearing impaired partners of the spouses in the study (the Self Assessment of Communication). To address the first aim, descriptive statistics were used to describe the extent of third-party hearing disability in the spouses. To address the second aim, binary logistic regression analysis was used to examine factors associated with third-party hearing disability. Factors investigated were focused on the spouse (e.g., spouse perception of relationship satisfaction) and on the partners with hearing impairment (e.g., partners’ level of hearing impairment).
Most spouses (98%) reported some degree of third-party hearing disability on at least one item of the SOS-HEAR, with the majority reporting a mild disability. Three risk factors were found to be significantly associated with severe or complete third-party disability: lower relationship satisfaction as reported by the spouse (Relationship Assessment Scale), spousal age difference, and spouse perception of their partner’s hearing disability (Significant Other Assessment of Communication). Partners’ level of hearing impairment, self-reported hearing disability (Self Assessment of Communication), use of hearing aids, and spouse satisfaction that their hearing-impaired partner had done all they could to help with hearing were not associated with third-party disability.
This research study shows that spouses of older people with hearing impairment experience third-party disability as a result of their partners’ hearing impairment and that the SOS-HEAR could be used to identify the nature of the disability. The three factors found to be associated with third-party disability could identify spouses at risk of third-party disability related to hearing impairment and form the basis of an intervention.