How to Help Someone who has Hearing Loss?
On average, a person will wait seven years before getting help for hearing loss. It is a sensitive subject, and you may find yourself needing to initiate an unpleasant conversation with a loved one if they are waiting too long.
Every type of hearing loss can take a toll on personal relationships, no matter how mild. Misunderstandings can happen when a person can hear but not quite comprehend the conversation, and frayed nerves can be the result of having to repeat yourself continually.
Presbycusis (the degeneration of hearing as we age) will happen to everyone, but to varying extents. Misunderstandings and frustration are not the only by-products of hearing loss; our hearing plays a major role in our balance function, people with hearing loss can find themselves becoming unsteady on their feet and having more falls than those without.
Effects of hearing loss
- Causing the person to withdraw from social situations. They find it difficult to communicate and may feel embarrassed asking people to repeat themselves often.
- Leaving a hearing loss untreated could lead to health conditions like depression and anxiety, and could allow the hearing loss to become worse.
- Less personal and professional opportunities as it is hard for the person to communicate clearly and efficiently.
It is possible for the hearing loss to worsen over time if left untreated, as the brain becomes accustomed to receiving sounds at this diminished volume, and ‘forgets’ what the regular volume input should be. People who wait too long may find it difficult to understand speech, and will then have to readjust when hearing aids are fitted.
What to do if a loved one has a hearing loss
It is important to understand that your loved one will have some conflicting feelings about the situation, they may be feeling angry, confused, discouraged and ashamed. Remember to take this into account when broaching the subject.
It is in everyone’s best interest to get hearing loss checked as soon as possible so that treatment can be advised earlier rather than later. Speaking to an Audiologist or Audiometrist can help to put some fears at bay.
How to talk about hearing loss
- Do your research – Know the facts and figures of hearing loss and the effects of hearing aids, if you can answer the questions or objections that they have, they may be more willing to take the next step.
- Approach the subject at an appropriate time – Don’t try to bring up the conversation when you are both stressed or pushed for time, or when there are lots of other people nearby. Initiate a relaxing talk when you have some peaceful time alone with them.
- Be empathetic – Hearing loss can cause a lot of other emotions that they may have been suppressing, so be kind and understanding throughout the whole conversation.
- Talk about what is affecting you and the family – Try to explain why you want them to be able to hear again. Let them know their grandchildren miss talking on the phone to them, or that you have noticed they have withdrawn from social interactions and you want them to thoroughly enjoy life again.
- Offer your help – Appointments with medical professionals can be daunting and overwhelming, so offer to research, book appointments and even attend alongside them. There can often be lots of information provided at these appointments so a second pair of ears can help to retain it all.
- Talk about the results of treatment – Don’t just focus on how frustrating it is for everyone now, try explaining the benefits of seeking treatment and the joy of being able to hear and be fully immersed in the world again.
- Don’t be discouraged – If the conversation is first met with hostility or brushed aside, remember that they are probably experiencing a lot of other emotions and proceed slowly. At least you will have planted the seed to try again later.
Some objections you may face
- They simply do not realise – Some people have not recognised that they have a hearing loss. Hearing loss usually has a gradual onset, and the brain can adapt to each slight reduction in hearing degree. This causes the sufferer to become habituated to their reduced hearing ability, and not knowing that they have an issue to be concerned with.
Usually, in such cases, there isn’t a vehement, emotional denial when someone raises the issue of a possible hearing loss. When the possibility of hearing loss is made apparent, such people will often have their hearing checked.
- Denial – There are a few different forms of denial:
1. They suspect they have a hearing loss but will not admit to it. There may be a powerful, emotional denial when the subject is raised like ‘my hearing is fine, everyone mumbles these days’. This is a tough situation so remember to tread carefully, make sure they know that hearing checks are recommended once a year for everyone and offer to go along with them so you can both have your hearing checked.
2. They are aware of the hearing loss but won’t accept it is a problem. The subject of hearing loss may be brushed aside by a claim of ‘it’s not a big deal, I can manage’. They may think that a mild hearing loss isn’t causing much harm, as family and friends know about it and try to accommodate.
It may be useful to indicate, in a non-threatening way, how the hearing loss is affecting others. Explain that it would be nice not to have to repeat yourself, or have to worry when they don’t answer the phone because they can’t hear it ringing.
3. They are aware of the hearing loss but don’t think anything can help. The may be firm in the thinking that ‘it’s a part of getting older, I have to get used to it’.
While it is true that hearing aids cannot perfect your hearing or return it entirely to the state it once was, they can vastly improve quality of life for people with mild, moderate or severe hearing loss. Each year more than 100,000 Australians choose to be fitted with hearing aids, and the satisfaction rate among hearing aid users is reported at more than 70 percent.
- Cost – Cost is a genuine issue for many people who do not have hearing aids. Seniors on limited, fixed incomes, people in low paying jobs, and children from economically low-income families are just a few examples.
You can explain that there is an extensive range of hearing aids on the market today, with a wide variety of price points. They can range from a couple of hundred dollars for basic products to thousands of dollars for the more complex and less obtrusive aids.
The price will vary depending on the technology used in the hearing aid. More expensive hearing aids use advanced technology, enabling them to change volume for different sounds quickly, but cheaper analog aids will be sufficient for simple amplification of all sounds.
Let them know that getting a hearing test and speaking to an audiologist or audiometrist will open up the options for them; they can look at and try out different devices to find the best fit for their budget and lifestyle.
There are also government programmes to heavily subsidise hearing devices for pensioners and other at-risk groups. See the Office of Hearing Services website for more details. If you have private health insurance you may be entitled to a rebate.
- Perception in society/vanity – Many people are worried about how wearing a hearing aid will make them look. Men tend to see it as a sign of weakness and women tend to see it as ‘showing their age’. So some folks won’t get hearing aids because they perceive hearing loss to be a sign of old age and a symbol of its attendant infirmities or failings.
Talking about the different styles that are available today may help to alleviate some fears around this issue. Previously bulky and unsightly, hearing aids have come a long way in the last few years. Modern devices are significantly smaller and more effective than their older counterparts, and manufacturers have moved away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
In-the-ear and in-the-canal hearing aids are available, and some are completely invisible or only visible by a small handle in the ear. Showing some examples of these to your loved one may overcome some of this reluctance.
You can also try to tactfully discuss how they appear to others when they frequently fail to hear or understand what is being said. A hearing loss is usually far more noticeable than a hearing aid.
Some extra tips
- Make sure you are the best person to approach the subject, bring up the idea with someone else if you think it may be best coming from them.
- Give examples of when the person has shown that they have a hearing loss, perhaps by turning the TV up too loud or asking someone to repeat themselves often.
- Remind the person that it is a totally normal problem (one in two people over the age of 60 suffer from hearing loss) which can be treated, and that help is available.
- Hearing aid use is associated with reductions in anger, frustration, paranoia, anxiety, and overall improvements in quality of life and emotional stability.
Hearing aids are packed with fantastic technology that improves people’s lives every day. After you discuss your loved ones need for hearing help, click here to book a free hearing test now.
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