Notice the difference between encouraging and strong-arming when it comes to helping our loved ones confront hearing loss. We know that making demands can have the opposite effect of what we want. In many cases, the person under pressure digs in their heels and doubles down on their position.
We don’t want to cause shame, embarrassment, or fear in our loved ones. We just want them to get the hearing healthcare they need and even adopt one of the many proven, successful treatments that will allow them to re-engage with the world.
Your encouragement matters to a loved one with hearing loss
The great news is that encouragement from loved ones and family members is the leading motivator for people to seek help with their hearing loss. In a survey conducted in March of 2021 by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, respondents revealed that most Americans would seek treatment if their children, grandchildren, or spouses/partners encouraged them to do so. Almost 50 percent of people would seek treatment under the advice of a friend.
The subtle signs of hearing loss
Unfortunately, the early warning signs of hearing loss can be so mild and progressive that self-diagnosis is tricky. We need the people in our lives to notice changes in behavior and intervene.
As we age, the fine cells of the inner ear decline in many people. Around one in three people over the age of 65 show disabling hearing loss due to the natural aging process. These inner ear cells receive the noise from the external world and translate it into sound information that is sent to the brain. As they die off, they do not repopulate themselves and therefore, collect less of the world’s sounds. Our brains receive less sound information and the effect is that we ‘hear less.’
Because this process is so nuanced, it is likely we will lose high-frequency sounds first, rather than an overall lowering of volume. This means that speech clarity becomes an issue and conversation becomes difficult and frustrating to understand. A large degree of these changes happens on a subconscious level so that people with hearing loss avoid verbal interactions without even being aware that they’re doing so.
Hearing loss impacts the quality of life
Of course, while this can be a wholly subconscious process, the real-life implications in our relationships are clear-cut. One troubling side effect of hearing loss as reported by people living with the condition is a sense of self-isolation and even depression. When communication becomes challenging and we withdraw from difficult interactions, we begin to turn inward and away from our loved ones and the world around us.
Approaching your loved one with hearing loss
Most changes as a result of aging are destabilizing. Adapting to a new stage of life is a process. If you think your loved one is suffering from hearing loss, remember that there might be some sensitivity around their condition. Wait for the right moment to approach them with your concerns, one that is private and unpressured.
Don’t expect them to make a hearing exam appointment right away, instead suggest that hearing loss may be at play and think of it as planting the seed. It may take some time for them to become comfortable with the situation and work through any insecurities around aging.
Make it a group activity
It may help to reduce the individual stigma of hearing loss by proposing hearing exams as a group activity. Prioritizing hearing health could be a family-wide initiative in which all members have their hearing examined.
Be sensitive to their experience
Remember that as frustrating as it might be to interact with a loved one refusing to acknowledge their hearing loss, it is exponentially more difficult to be the person who is experiencing hearing loss themselves. In many cases, there are mental and emotional impacts that you don’t see. Be a safe listening space for them. Ask them about their experience and be patient when engaging in conversation, now that you know how isolating and challenging it can be for them.
Treating hearing loss can improve relationships
We know that people who do end up confronting hearing loss and investing in treatment are highly satisfied with their decision. Most people with hearing aids would recommend them to a friend and they overwhelmingly report improved relationships as a result of choosing hearing aids. It is worth the time and patience you commit to the goal of helping your loved one find hearing health treatment. Our team of hearing health professionals can guide you and your loved one through the easy process of a hearing exam and will work with you to find the best path forward.