For anyone who has a loved one, like a close friend, spouse, parent, or grandparent, who has started to have trouble hearing and following conversations in quiet or noise, it can be hard to know the right way to bring up the subject of hearing loss.
However, with new studies increasingly linking untreated hearing loss to serious comorbidities, it’s now more important than ever to ensure our family members are receiving the hearing care they need early in their hearing journey.
As their loved one, you can play a critical role in getting them to take the first step to a better hearing before they begin missing out on big life moments. In order to do so, you need to know how to best broach the topic and what to focus on to ensure it’s a productive conversation.
Ultimately, your goal should be to empower them with the confidence to begin managing their hearing so they can live a healthier, more fulfilling life on their own terms.
Effective Conversation Starters
Close relationships require consistent and effective communication. No one wants to miss out on life’s special moments, from graduation to retirement, particularly when they’re with friends and family. Unfortunately, hearing loss can be a major barrier to feeling connected to those around you.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to begin the conversation by talking about real-life examples and experiences where hearing loss may have affected your loved one directly. Do they miss enjoying listening to their favorite songs or watching their favorite TV shows at a volume lower than max? Are they fully present and participating during family events and dinners? Encourage them to speak from their own experience about these situations and how they feel because of them.
Hearing loss can also be very draining as it drives an increase in listening effort. While someone may be able to hear part or even all of the conversation for a time, listening and following along requires a lot more energy and focus than usual. This results in your loved ones with hearing loss feeling more tired more quickly and likely wanting to withdraw sooner. Bring up listening effort as part of the conversation and see if this is something they experience. If so, discuss whether treatment can reduce listening effort and help them enjoy conversations and experiences for longer.
Finally, while you don’t want to scare your loved one into pursuing treatment, it’s important to mention the potential links between untreated hearing loss and the risk of comorbidities such as cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, fatigue, falls, depression, cognitive impairment, and dementia. Most current theories relate many of these issues back to social isolation — which is an extremely common problem among people with hearing loss.
It’s very hard to be in a situation where you struggle to hear others or feel confused and frustrated by not understanding what’s going on around you. Individuals with untreated hearing loss who experience these situations often pull back from their environments due to the frustration of being unable to communicate.
This discussion of real-life examples may encourage your loved ones to consider how hearing loss affects their everyday life. Discussing them might help motivate your loved one to take the first risk-free step of the process: getting their hearing checked.
When discussing hearing tests, try to emphasize the simple and practical process. It is important for anyone to have a baseline exam of their hearing and many ENTs and hearing centers, including HearUSA, provide free hearing tests, so it costs nothing to get a test and consider options for intervention from a licensed professional.
Tips for Help and Support
In addition to obtaining hearing aids, there are some pretty simple and straightforward aspects of everyday life that we can change in order to better communicate with hearing-impaired family members.
- When speaking to someone with hearing loss, try to make sure you have their attention. Try to speak slowly and clearly while facing them directly. Don’t speak to them from another room or have your mouth covered, since many hearing-impaired individuals rely on lip reading in their day-to-day interactions. Especially during large gatherings, it’s important to be close to them and project your voice towards them.
- Very loud situations are the most challenging environment for people with hearing loss, so try to reduce any extra noise when possible by turning down the volume on TVs and other devices, as well as avoiding cross-talk at social gatherings like dinners or parties.
- If your hearing-impaired loved one doesn’t catch what you said initially, instead of repeating yourself, try rephrasing what you initially said. Additionally, avoid raising your voice or shouting at someone who can’t hear you. No matter how frustrating the situation may be, it’s always good to remain calm and make sure everyone feels respected.
- Consider being or assigning someone to be a “communication buddy.” That means sitting next to your loved one and helping them follow and catch conversations they missed. This keeps them from feeling isolated and confused. If they hear better through one ear, have them sit at their preferred side of the table.
Being a Parent or Grandparent with Hearing Loss
It goes without saying that effective communication is crucial to parenting and caregiving. Hearing loss which starts later in life can make it especially challenging for parents and grandparents who rely on spoken language to understand what their children/grandchildren are saying, particularly when they are young and may not articulate clearly. Misunderstandings or misinterpretations of a child’s needs, questions, or emotions can lead to frustration or confusion.
Early identification and treatment, including properly fit hearing aids, is the best way to mitigate hearing loss and be a more active parent or grandparent. Additionally, there are some simple things that can improve communication channels between child and adult.
- Try to set clear and achievable expectations with the kids so they know how to best communicate with you. For example, let them know that talking face-to-face is always preferable for people with hearing loss. Similarly, limiting background noise is also a plus, meaning you should lower the volume on games and TV shows.
- In this day and age many grandparents, in particular, live far away from their grandchildren and rely on technology to communicate. Although phone calls are probably more common, video chat is a better option for reading lips and facial expressions to aid the communication process. Additionally, a larger screen is better, so consider using a video conferencing app on your tablet, laptop, or desktop instead of a mobile phone.
We know that being a parent or grandparent is hard enough, but adding in hearing loss and communication challenges makes the day-to-day especially difficult. Treating your hearing loss might be one way to help simplify the chaos of raising the next generation.
With all of this in mind, remember that while you might be the one starting this conversation, your loved one facing hearing loss is in the lead. Your support can make a world of difference in empowering them to improve their own quality of life. Having motivation, and a support system, is paramount in ensuring that they continue to make the choice of better hearing for the rest of their lives.