Helping a Loved One Deal with Hearing Loss
It is difficult to watch someone struggle to hear, but talking to them about it can be challenging. Hearing loss usually creeps up so slowly that a person does not even realize it is happening. Even though someone’s hearing loss seems obvious to us, that person may be in denial or reluctant to admit that he is having difficulty hearing the world around him.
Signs of hearing loss
- Not responding when someone calls their name
- Constant asking people to repeat themselves
- Turning up a TV or stereo very loud
- Complaining that other people are mumbling or not speaking clearly
- Has trouble following conversations, especially in noisy environments
- Misunderstands what people say
- Nods their heads or agrees with speakers, but clearly did not hear what they said
- Uses lipreading to fill in the gaps of a conversation
- Withdraws from conversations and social situations because they are unable to follow what is being said
Those of us who have a relationship with a person with hearing lossmay be frustrated because we constantly need to speak loudly or repeat things that have been said for our friend or family member. Sara Burdak of Starkey Hearing Technologies says that we may think we are helping our family member or friend by doing these things but in fact, we might be keeping him from realizing the extent of his hearing loss and encouraging him to continue in a state of denial.
When we approach our loved one, we should ease into the topic gently, especially if we are the first to bring up the subject. We can’t be sure how they will react to us. Our loved one will probably be in denial in the beginning. We shouldn’t become upset or take it personally if the person are not ready to talk about their hearing problem.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to hearing loss. Our loved ones don’t want to accept that something that could be wrong with their hearing. They feel embarrassment and shame because they can’t hear as well as other people. For them, wearing a hearing aid is a symbol that they are defective, and in the case of seniors, old and senile.
If we force the issue or scold our loved one, he will probably be resistant and shut down. If our loved one demonstrates tht he is unwilling to deal with his hearing loss, we need to back off. Talks about hearing loss are like planting seeds – with sunshine, water and good soil, they will eventually grow the way we want. It may take months or even years before a loved one is able to accept and deal with his hearing loss.
There are steps that we can take to encourage our loved one to seek treatment of his hearing loss.
Take opportunities to talk about it
Our loved ones need reassurance that it is OK to have hearing loss and that there are solutions available. We will need to address the hearing loss issue and solutions in several times in conversations before the person is ready to seek help.
As Dr. Phil often says, “We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.” Conversations must be gentle, compassionate and sensitive, and stop if the person becomes upset or angry. We can talk to other family members who have similar concerns and discusss any progress being made on the subject.
Some conversation openers
There are a number of ways that we can break the ice:
“I notice that you often ask people to repeat what they are saying.”
“You don’t seem to want to join the conversation at the last family reunion.”
“You said that Mary was mumbling, but she was speaking normally.”
“I am concerned about your hearing because you turn up the volume so high on your TV.”
Document incidents that reveal their hearing loss
We can jot down occasions when the person struggles to follow a conversation or asks for repetition. When we are talking to our loved one, we can pull out a few items on the list and explain how their hearing loss has impacted our lives. We can share how frustrated we are by their hearing loss in an impartial way. We should be clear that we are motivated to broach the subject because we love or care about him.
Know any good stories?
Some people shut down when they are approached about their hearing loss. If we know any stories of people whose lives were improved by hearing aids, we can share them with our loved one. This is a less “in your face” approach. People with hearing loss often feel isolated from others and struggle alone. Success stories of others who overcome this problem tend to de-stigmatize hearing loss.
Contact an audiologist
We should become aware of the services available in our local community so that we can share what we know with our loved one. Hearing loss can be a fear-filled journey into the unknown for some people. Our loved one will be more likely to seek help if he know how his hearing will be tested and has general information about hearing aids.
An audiologist can test our loved one’s hearing, diagnose possible hearing loss, counsel clients and their families, and suggest solutions such as hearing aids. The audiologist consulted should be certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
The Hearing Loss Association of America provides extensive information on hearing loss such as a guide to hearing aids and assistive listening technology.
The Healthy Hearing website provides more information about various types of hearing tests and information about local hearing professionals.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has a information page on hearing loss and older adults.
Suggested further reading:
Helping a Loved One Deal with Hearing Loss
How to talk to loved ones about hearing loss, Healthy Hearing
Talking About Hearing Loss, Hearing-aid.com
Hearing Loss: Four Tips on Talking to Your Loved One, American Hearing Aid Association
Helping others Cope with Hearing Loss, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association