How to Discuss Hearing Loss With a Loved One
It could be core memories of Grandpa’s loudly beeping 1960s hearing aids. It could be the cost. There are many reasons why your loved one just doesn’t want to hear it.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30%) has ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (approximately 16%) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.”
There’s no getting around it — there is a perceived stigma surrounding hearing aid use. Some folks may worry they’ll be judged as old or weak. These are powerful words. Hidden within the thought process of even being tested for hearing loss lies your loved one’s entire self-perception, and how they feel they will be perceived by others. These feelings shouldn’t be disregarded — they are very real and impede many people’s path to hearing improvement.
The good news is that you can help your loved one jump this hurdle.
Sometimes, all it takes to get them on the path to improving their hearing is a compassionate invite to a discussion, where everyone’s voices can be heard.
Try this three-step course of action to help send you and your loved one on a journey of acceptance that leads to better hearing and a greatly improved quality of life.
Getting them to acknowledge their hearing loss in the first place can be difficult, so a gentle and respectful approach is key. Using hearing aids is a deeply personal decision, and family dynamics are at stake.
Use words that aren’t pointed — no one wants to be told they have a hearing problem. This is especially true if, for years, your loved one has been blaming their lack of understanding on a mumbling spouse or grandkids who play “too loudly.”
Suggest that maybe Grandma isn’t mumbling; that you can hear her just fine. You could also try going along with their story — ask them, “Wouldn’t it be nice to hear Grandma without having to strain? You know how she mumbles.” Try a few roads like these and see which one helps them admit that maybe it’s time to see an audiologist.
If they wear glasses, ask them if they’d ever consider leaving their vision unchecked. Could they live without their glasses on a daily basis? That may help put the level of necessity into perspective.
This can get into sensitive territory. Again, gentility and respect are crucial. Weave your facts in over time, rather than providing one big information dump. Turning on a firehose of information can be overwhelming. They may already feel embarrassed or frustrated at the thought of even discussing hearing loss, let alone talking about how it applies to them.
Help your loved one understand that hearing loss affects more than just being able to hear people speak. Hearing loss affects other facets of their health.
For example, the National Institute on Aging published an article that details the many ways hearing loss can affect cognitive health. Let them know about findings such as, “Studies have shown that older adults with hearing loss have a greater risk of developing dementia than older adults with normal hearing.” You can follow that up with other data, like the fact that older adults with hearing loss tend to lose their cognitive abilities more rapidly (including memory and concentration) than those with no hearing loss or those who use hearing-restorative devices, like hearing aids. They may even flinch at the words “hearing aids.”
Wow them with all the new technology available. These aren’t your grandpa’s hearing aids — the latest devices not only look more sleek and subtle than they did years ago, but they can do fancy new tricks. Audio streaming via Bluetooth technology has been introduced into many hearing aids. You can pair them to a phone, your laptop, and even directly to your TV, with no extra gadgets.
Some newer hearing aids can act as built-in foreign language translators. Others include emergency sensors, or a “fall alert,” that can detect when the wearer has taken a tumble and send out an alert message to their emergency contact. This feature could be an actual lifesaver.
Another angle to use is that living with unchecked hearing loss could eventually hinder their independence. Sometimes, people who can’t hear are mistakenly thought to be (at best) confused or (at worst) unresponsive or uncooperative. The latter traits can lead to family members and medical professionals, together, revoking their ability to do enjoyable things, like drive.
Offer to drive them or just ride along to their audiology appointment. Tell them you’ll go in to see the doctor with them. Suggest that you can sit and take notes for them so they can concentrate on being examined. Come from a place of service and support. Remind them that you are here because you care.
How can you support them through the feelings surrounding the stigma of using hearing aids? Part of supporting them on this journey will include finding the words to boost their confidence and sense of self. What do they love about themselves? Do they have beautiful hair? If so, you can use that to your advantage and say something such as, “Your beautiful hair will be covering those hearing aids. How wonderful that your gorgeous coiffe is the only thing everyone is going to be staring at!” Are they proud of their striking eyes or their talent for making a joke? Assure them that those traits will outshine any hearing device.
Communicating with health insurance providers can be the most difficult part of any medical journey. Offer to do the prep work for them — call their insurance company, contact a local audiologist, get some answers, and do the math and detail exactly how much this may cost them, including giving them a range of prices for different types of technology.
Let them know you love them, care about them, and want to keep them out of danger. Untreated hearing loss creates a safety hazard for them and the people they encounter throughout their day. For example, it can affect their ability to drive safely, as honking horns and police sirens go unheard.
Having someone you love continually put in harm’s way is stressful for you and for them, especially when all they need to do is visit their local audiologist and come up with a plan to tackle their hearing challenges. Make sure they know they aren’t facing this challenge alone.
Here are some tips for broaching the subject of hearing care to a resistant person:
- Ask how you can help. Come from a place of service.
- Gently alert them to the downsides of not being able to hear well.
- Laugh! Keep the conversation light.
- Be patient. People with hearing loss may also be frustrated by their condition.
- Stay positive and relaxed.
- Don’t give up. It may take several conversations to get them on board.
No one likes to be the bad guy, but a few moments of awkwardness and a little risk could turn one conversation into a new lease on life and better hearing for your loved one.
Start the conversation today!