Living with hearing impairment is frustrating for everyone involved, especially because constant miscommunication can lead to hurt feelings, isolation, and even dangerous mistakes. Unfortunately, it's hard to know how to talk to your parents -- or other close friends or loved ones -- about this issue.
If this situation hits home for you, you're likely thinking of your aging parents or grandparents. After all, hearing loss is one of the most common conditions that affect older adults, and more than 31 million Americans of all ages live with hearing impairment, according to AARP.
Luckily, there are some communication strategies for hearing loss that can help your loved one re-engage with the world around them. What makes this difficult is getting them on board with those strategies, because sometimes people who have gone through a change in hearing are unwilling to recognize the situation or seek help.
Effects of Hearing Impairment
Symptoms of hearing loss are rather easy to recognize. It's particularly important to know, however, that the hard of hearing often hear the loudness of sounds, but consonants are frequently misheard or mixed up, making speech difficult to decipher. The risks derived from hearing impairment are also rather obvious: In day-to-day life, there are plenty of situations where we rely on our hearing for communication and safety, and losing that hearing compromises that reliance.
Hearing loss affects even more than our general awareness. The inner ear also has an effect on balance, meaning that hearing impairment increases fall risk. And what about the social impact? Even in a room full of loved ones, the hard of hearing will have trouble participating and may simply check out of conversations until it becomes a habit. This stresses everyone out.
Clearly, there are many negative ramifications for hearing loss that need to be addressed. But what can you do to convince a stubborn relative that it's time to take action?
We Need to Talk
The good news is that all these risks can be minimized with intervention. In some cases, a hearing aid or other form of assistive technology may address specific issues. A medical team can assess an individual's needs, prescribe hearing aids, and refer them to a practice such as occupational therapy.
The problem that often comes up, however, is that many people resist getting help. If you don't know how to talk to your parents or other loved ones about their hearing loss, it can be stressful, especially if they don't believe they have a problem or are too proud to admit it. Of course, having this talk with a hearing-impaired person makes it even more complicated. Here are some tips:
- Find a quiet place and time when you can sit with one another and have a direct conversation.
- Be prepared for them to go on the defensive. This is a difficult conversation, so stay calm and let them say their piece. The more you understand their resistance, the better you will be able to ease them into the idea of getting some help.
- Focus on helping your loved one. Your own arguments should be based around pointing out the health risks associated with hearing loss and how seeing a doctor can reduce those risks. Offer to go with them to the appointment, take notes, and help them figure out next steps.
Hearing aids don't necessarily restore hearing to what it was before, and people take time to adjust to them, but data shows that they can significantly improve communication. People who use them report improved relationships and overall quality of life, according to a study by the National Council on Aging featured by AARP.
Convincing a resistant loved one to seek help requires showing compassion, underlining the risks of hearing impairment, and holding a direct, empathic conversation. Be clear that you have a person's best interests in mind, and they'll be more receptive.