Talking to a Loved One About Hearing Loss
There is never an easy way to broach a difficult topic. Particularly when you’ve noticed a loved one having an increasingly difficult time with their hearing. It’s such a personal and subjective condition to speak about, and the person experiencing hearing loss may be sensitive and emotional about their declining hearing abilities.
However, age-related hearing loss is also a condition that affects one third of the over 65 population and it is likely that many of us know someone with hearing loss. While hearing loss professionals and advocates are making it a more visible and less taboo topic overall, having a conversation about a loved one’s hearing loss can still feel like a minefield.
Choose the time and place wisely
Don’t pick Thanksgiving dinner when you’re fed up with an older relative’s inability to participate in a boisterous group conversation to bring up their hearing loss. Instead, make a mental note to pick a more appropriate setting for this sensitive conversation.
Do choose a quiet and private place to have the conversation. Be super aware of your setting and make sure that there isn’t a lot of interfering background noise. That background noise exacerbates the difficulty your loved one already has in hearing you clearly. This will probably be the beginning of a learning curve for both of you, because as your loved one begins to address their hearing loss, they’ll likely be asking you to make some changes in how the two of you communicate. Start early by having the conversation in a location that puts them at ease and allows for a good, long talk.
Let compassion be your guide
Don’t attack your loved one or tell them about your experience of their hearing loss. This isn’t about you, it’s about them and making their life better through treatment. Gently suggest that you’ve noticed they seem to be having a difficult time hearing and listen to what they say. Give them a chance to talk about their experience with hearing. If their hearing has deteriorated to a point where it’s noticeable to you, it’s likely been a problem they’ve been aware of for much longer.
Use this first conversation to just broach the topic and let them know that you are there to support them if they want to schedule a hearing test and explore hearing solution options. Your primary job here is to be supportive and listen to what they have to say.
Depression might also be at play
If your loved one is aware of their hearing loss, but hasn’t taken any steps to address it, they may be dealing with some shame around the subject. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Admitting to hearing loss is difficult for some folks because it can feel like an official ‘old age’ stamp.
There is a documented history of depression accompanying hearing loss. Because communication becomes more difficult, people with undiagnosed hearing loss begin to incorporate increasingly isolating behaviors into their lifestyle. A natural result of the decrease in social interaction is depression. So, when you’re talking to a loved one about hearing loss, you might also be triggering or wading through some of their depression, too. Remember that depression can make a person feel unworthy and defeated. This only adds onto the list of reasons they might be reluctant to admit to the hearing loss and work on overcoming it.
Understand that this might be the first of many conversations
This first conversation might just be the icebreaker, so don’t expect a swift and clean resolution right away. Make a personal commitment to periodically check in with your loved one in a caring and supportive way until they feel ready to take action.
Without being too pushy, you can also slip them some information on support groups and other resources for people with hearing loss. The Hearing Loss Association of America has state and local chapters that connect people with hearing loss. They can provide support, strategies and expertise in guiding a loved one through this difficult process. Remember that hearing loss treatment can make a real difference and while the topic is a sensitive one, the rewards of pursuing diagnoses and intervention can be substantially life-improving!