Helping a loved one deal with hearing loss

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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.

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 hearing loss untreated could lead to health conditions like depression and anxiety and could allow the hearing loss to become worse.
  • Fewer personal and professional opportunities as it is hard for the person to communicate clearly and efficiently.
  • 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.

It’s 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.

How to talk about hearing loss
Do your research. If you can answer the questions or objections the person has, they may be more willing to take the next step.

Broach 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.

Be empathetic. Hearing loss can cause a lot of other emotions that the person may have been suppressing.

Talk about the effects on 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 Let them know their grandchildren miss talking on the phone to them, or that you have noticed they have withdrawn from social interactions and you want them to thoroughly enjoy life again.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 be lots of information given at these appointments, so a second pair of ears can help take it all in.

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 the person is 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
Denial
Sometimes, the person won’t have realised the hearing loss is noticeable to others. 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, so they don’t know that they have an issue to be concerned with.

If your loved one has a powerful, emotional denial when the subject is raised, they may suspect they have a hearing loss but do not want to admit to it.

If family and friends are accommodating of the hearing loss, they may not realise it is a problem. It may be useful to explain how hearing loss is affecting others. Tell them 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.

Your loved one may be aware of the hearing loss but doesn’t think anything can help. They may just think that it’s a part of getting older and something to live with.

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.

There are also government programs 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
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’.

Previously bulky and unsightly, hearing aids have come a long way in the past 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.

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.

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 per cent.

How would you broach the subject? Have you ever had to initiate a conversation about hearing loss with a loved one? Do you have any other tips to add?

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Written by Ellie Baxter



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