Carola has worked for agencies serving the hearing loss community for many years. She is also a freelance writer.
It is difficult to watch someone struggle to hear but talking to them about it can be challenging. Several loved ones of mine have experienced hearing loss in their senior years. I have also worked for an agency serving hard of hearing people for several years.
Hearing loss usually creeps up so slowly that people close to us do not even realize it is happening. Though someone’s hearing loss seems obvious to us, they may be in denial or reluctant to admit that he is having difficulty hearing the world around him.
Signs of Hearing Loss
A loved one may be dealing with hearing loss if they:
- Do not respond when someone calls their name
- Is constantly asking people to repeat themselves
- Turn up a TV or music very loud
- Complain that other people are mumbling or not speaking clearly
- Have trouble following conversations, especially in noisy environments
- Misunderstand what people say
- Nod their heads or agree with speakers but show signs they did not hear what was said
- Use lipreading to fill in the gaps of a conversation
- Withdraw from conversations and social situations because they are unable to follow discussions
Approaching People About Their Hearing Loss
We may become frustrated because we constantly need to speak loudly or repeat things that we have said. We may think we are helping loved ones by doing these things. However, we might be keeping them from realizing the extent of their hearing loss and encouraging them to continue in a state of denial.
When we approach our loved ones, we should gently ease into the topic, especially if we are the first to bring up the subject. We cannot be sure how they will react to us. They will probably be in denial in the beginning. We should not become upset or take it personally if they are not ready to talk about their hearing problem.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to hearing loss. Our loved ones may not want to accept that something that could be wrong with their hearing. They feel embarrassed and shame because they cannot 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 ones, they will probably be resistant, defensive, and shut down. If they demonstrate that they are unwilling to deal with their hearing loss, we need to back off.
Talking about hearing loss are like planting and taking care of seeds – with sunshine, water, and good soil, they will eventually grow the way we want. It may take months or even years before loved ones can accept and start to deal with their hearing loss. We can take steps to encourage our loved ones to seek treatment for their hearing loss.
Steps to Helping Loved Ones Deal With 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 probably need to address the hearing loss issue and solutions 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, stopping if the person becomes upset or angry. We can talk to other family members who have similar concerns and discuss any progress being made on the subject.
Some Conversation Openers
There are several 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 talk to our loved ones, 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. We should be clear that we are motivated to broach the subject because we love or care about them.
Tell Stories About This Topic
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 ones. Doing 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.
There are several ways we can help people we care about deal with their hearing loss. We can anticipate situations where they may need our support. Our loved ones may struggle to follow conversations in noisy groups or with people they do not know, for example.
Here are some communication tips:
- Call or email relatives attending with communication tips before family gatherings or events
- Sit next to or across from the hard of hearing person
- Be available for questions
- Fill them in on anything they may have missed
- Use facial expressions and gestures to help them to understand information
- Speak at a natural level
- Do not dismiss requests for repetition by saying, “never mind” – this can upset hard of hearing people
- If asked to repeat something, use different wording to make the meaning clear
- Use simple sentences
Encourage Them to Have Their Hearing Tested
We should become aware of the services available in our local community so we can share what we know with our loved ones. Hearing loss can be a fear-filled journey into the unknown for some people. Our loved ones will be more likely to seek help if they know how their hearing will be tested and has general information about hearing aids.
A certified audiologist can test our loved one’s hearing, diagnose possible hearing loss, counsel clients and their families, and suggest solutions such as hearing aids.
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
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Carola Finch
Onaolapo Adeyemi from USA on May 19, 2021:
Well written. Thanks for the information!