Care, empathy and understanding are key to talking to a family member about their hearing loss
We conducted a survey of our clients last year and invited them to share with us the circumstances that led them to getting a hearing aid. What made them bite the bullet and start looking into hearing aids?
One particular response came up again and again – it was a family member (usually a long-suffering wife!) who convinced the person to take the plunge and invest in hearing aids.
Another observation also came through loud and clear: all our clients were aware they had some kind of hearing loss – even if they weren’t aware of how severed it was.
So, knowing those two things, what can family members do to talk to (notice we didn’t say nag…) a loved one about their hearing loss.
We know it can be annoyance when the television is at ear-splitting volume, you’ve had to repeat yourself over and over again, or the bright and lively conversation you used to enjoy just isn’t there any more.
Nagging may trigger a common auditory condition known as ‘selective hearing’ which simply increases everyone’s frustration and solves absolutely no problems at all. Anecdotal research among audiologists (and we agree) says that it can take between seven and 10 years from a client first noticing the onset of hearing to finally getting hearing aids.
There are many reasons why some people may be resistant to getting hearing aids quite apart from ‘stubbornness’ or ‘denial’.
When you’re ready to have a serious conversation with someone about their hearing loss, there are steps you can take to make it an effective discussion.
Take a moment to plan
Talk to your other family members and ask if they’ve observed your loved one’s hearing loss – the chances are that they have noticed.
Ask them to tell you what challenges and concerns they have.
Take a moment to write down:
- What you have observed
- How hearing loss affect your loved one’s personal quality of life
- How it has affected you and other family members
The idea of the list is not to use it as a bludgeon when you’re both at your wits end, but rather as a tool to gather your thoughts for what is going to be a very important discussion.
Choose the right time and place to have the discussion
And remember, it is a discussion.
Chose a time when you’re both calm and relaxed. Make sure there are no distractions such as the TV. Pick a private spot where you know your loved one can hear you best.
Begin with an observation: “I’ve noticed you’ve been asking people to repeat themselves more frequently than usual. I’m wondering whether you might be having trouble hearing.”
Then let them talk. If they’re immediately defensive, it might be best to drop the conversation and be satisfied that you’ve planted the seed.
If they’ve expressed denial, share with them a moment where their hearing loss has had negative impact on the family.
One of our survey respondents shared the heartbreaking story of only realising how much his hearing loss was affecting the family when his wife revealed a conversation she had with their teenage son.
The teen told his mother that he wasn’t going to speak to his father again because, “he doesn’t even try to listen.”
You wouldn’t be alone in the hope that after such an important conversation, your loved one would immediately reply: “By jingo, you’re right! I’m going to book a hearing test this very afternoon.”
The reality is, coming to terms with hearing loss is a very personal and unique journey and everyone’s experience will be different.
Some people will want to quietly reflect on the discussion and say very little afterwards.
Others might want to begin an argument – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
When hearing loss has been an unspoken issue, the decision to deliberately raise the topic may open a dam of emotion. Let them speak without interruption. You might find that they end up talking themselves into taking the next step.
The Next Step
After consulting with your GP to eliminate any other underlying health concerns, the next step is to make a booking with a reputable audiologist, one who is independent of any one manufacturer and who can offer a comprehensive range of tests including speech in noise.
Offer to go with your loved one. In fact one excellent way of showing support is offering to get your hearing tested too!
In our survey, one client told us that she had been actively encouraging her husband to get hearing aids for years. To encourage him, she offered to have her hearing tested too, only to discover that she had undiagnosed hearing loss as well!
In The Meantime
You can help empower your loved one by following a few helpful tips and check out our article on how to hear your best in difficult situations.
1. Say the person’s name and get their attention before talking. This gives them the opportunity to focus their attention onto you and what you’re saying.
2. Make sure you are face to face when you speak to them. You might be surprised how much we all intuitively lipread, even if we haven’t been trained.
3. Don’t shout. Shouting doesn’t work. It is frustrating for you, annoying to the person you’re speaking to, and actually reduces comprehension
4. Be aware of difficult listening situations. It is hard to hear in noisy situations at the best of times. So, you can help a person with hearing loss by having conversations in less noisy surroundings. Consider turning the television off, or the sound down. When out and about, look for a place which is more quiet.
5. Rephrase if something is not understood. Again, you and your loved one will only get frustrated if you repeat something over and over again. Rephrasing your question can be helpful in aiding comprehension.
6. Be patient. This is a difficult time, so a little kindness and understanding will make the journey easier for you both.
Be encouraging when you loved one does get hearing aids – they only work as well as their operator.
For new users, hearing aids can take a little getting used to, so encourage them to wear the aids often and for increasingly longer periods. And finally, keep an open dialogue with your audiologist who will only be too happy to make adjustments to the programming of the aid as required.