How Do I Talk to a Loved One About their Hearing Loss
“I’m tired of being a living hearing aid and having to repeat myself to loved ones!” This is a common phrase for those with elderly family members suffering from hearing loss. Now, how do we broach the subject with them, overcome their stubbornness and get them the hearing solution they need? Let’s start with the facts.
The National Institute on Deafness states that one in three people in the US between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing difficulties, and nearly half of those older than 75 suffer from hearing loss.
The vast majority of hearing loss is not curable or treatable and the best solution is a hearing aid. Some 28.8 million Americans could benefit from wearing hearing aids, however, fewer than 16% wear them. And of those age 70 and older who could benefit from wearing hearing aids, fewer than 30% have ever used them.
One reason why older people refuse to wear hearing aids is that they’re in denial of having a hearing impairment to begin with. Or, the stigma that wearing hearing aids is an acknowledgment of their handicap and becomes a vanity issue. In some instances, they don’t understand or accept the consequences of their hearing loss and believe it’s simply a natural part of aging. Perhaps the most common and disheartening reason most adults don’t wear hearing aids today is the cost itself. Hearing aids are expensive, with a price range of $2,800 to $7,000. They’re not covered by most health insurance policies or Medicare.
Ignoring hearing loss is not just detrimental to your loved one’s longevity, health and happiness, but it could be foreshadowing a potential event in their life where their safety may be at risk. Operating a vehicle without properly hearing can be dangerous. Not being able to communicate effectively with medical professionals or first responders can complicate a potential emergency. In terms of what can be expected if their hearing loss goes untreated, studies have shown that your loved ones will experience a higher risk of cognitive decline, memory problems, depression, anxiety and overall social isolation.
Hearing nerves require stimulation to work optimally, and without stimulation the nerve stops working. This type of hearing loss is called "sensorineural hearing loss". When the nerves stop working, there is less activity in the auditory complex. When hearing aids are worn, the brain receives enough stimulation to continue functioning properly. The longer one waits to get hearing aids, the less stimulation their brain and hearing nerves get, and the worse one becomes at recognizing speech and sound. Once the nerves are affected, the damage is unreversible. The inner ear also affects a person’s balance, meaning there’s a higher risk of injury due to falling.
Then there’s the link to dementia. Some studies have suggested that mild hearing loss is linked to a doubling of dementia risk, and that moderate hearing loss can triple it. With severe hearing loss, the risk can be five times as high. The costs associated with sustaining your loved ones’ way of life when they have dementia far outweigh the cost of a pair of hearing aids.
The good news is that all these risks can be minimized and possibly mitigated with intervention. There are many negative ramifications of hearing loss that need to be addressed. But what can you do to convince a stubborn loved one that it's time to take action? Here are some tips:
First, find a quiet place to sit with them one on one. Be prepared for them to be defensive. This can be a challenging conversation, so stay engaged and listen to them. The better you understand their justifications, the better position you can be to respond. Simply educating them on the long-term health risks associated with their hearing loss and telling them you only want the best for them will sometimes not suffice.
Another strategy is to emphasize how hearing loss is affecting their personal lives. You can remind them that they’re not enjoying specific hobbies or activities anymore. Or that their grandkids find it hard to connect with them because they can’t communicate with them anymore. You might mention that they seem irritable and frustrated because hearing loss requires much more energy and effort to participate in conversations.
If none of these approaches work, don’t enable their hearing loss – don’t be a “living hearing aid”. A 2017 study published in The Canadian Journal of Speech-Language Pathology found that people are 20% more likely to seek a hearing solution when they’re in a position that makes them feel left out, rather than included. A simple way to do this is to refuse to repeat yourself, and decline to pass on information they missed due to their hearing loss. Your loved one may have an epiphany, acquiesce and get the hearing aids they need. This may be tough love, but the positives outweigh the negatives.
Most likely a loved one who is unwilling to accept hearing aids won’t be motivated to do much research on the topic, so do it for them. Take time to research the basics of hearing loss and hearing aids. If they have limited knowledge about the ramifications, they’ll appreciate you taking the time to educate yourself. If possible, introduce other friends and family members who wear hearing aids and can be advocates by sharing the positive changes in their own lives.
Inform your loved one of their options, show them the latest hearing aid technology and encourage them to get involved interactively. Take an online hearing test with them. Schedule consultations with licensed hearing care professionals. Telehealth hearing care solutions offer an easy way for them to stay at home and still access and receive quality hearing care services.
When you succeed, and your loved one starts wearing hearing aids, it is imperative that they continue to wear them during their adjustment phase. Similar to wearing glasses, their brain will need time to adapt to a “new” environment. Be patient. Be supportive. Hearing aids are not a cure for hearing loss, they will just make your loved one’s life better. That’s rewarding in itself.