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 Let them know their grandchildren miss talking on the phone to them, or that you have noticed they have withdrawn from social interactions and you want them to thoroughly enjoy life again.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

15 Comments

Total Comments: 15
  1. 0
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    Due to an illness when I was 3 months old, I lost approx 50% hearing in one ear and 60% in the other. School was not real good because when a teacher turned to the blackboard I could not read lips any more.

    However I learnt to concentrate quite well and conversations one on one (in quiet conditions) were good.

    My parents got me some hearing aids, only analogue at the time, and I hated them and refused to wear them. Also they did’nt make much difference.

    When digital aids came out I purchased a pair and could not believe the sounds I could hear! Birds actually made noises, music was suddenly not all bass and guitar notes were clear (and easily audible). My wife not does’nt have to stand in front of me to talk to me any more.

    However I have (to my way of thinking) the best of both worlds, wearing aids I can hear many things I never heard before and when I want peace and quiet, I can opt not to wear the aids. Ah bliss.

    • 0
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      Thanks for your comment Captain. School must have been tough with no hearing aids but I’m glad they help you out so much now.
      Though optional peace and quiet in some situations does sound quite good to be honest – I live opposite a golf course and the cockatoos tend to make a racket every morning at 5:30!

  2. 0
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    I broached the subject with my husband. He was in denial until our grand children mentioned his hearing loss. A flurry of activity followed and hearing aids were purchased. The novelty wore off and he only wears them now if we go out, but not always. It is very frustrating, and the misheard conversations no longer funny. I know he can lip read, and subtitles on the TV are a godsend.

  3. 0
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    House mate finally got his hearing aid but forgets to wear it . Tells me I really should stop muttering and speak clearly .. uh duh !

  4. 0
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    Touchy subject!
    Me? “Industrial defness from about 60 years old. Much difficulty convincing even professionals my hearing loss is not age-related, nor a typical age related hearing loss. No, dont wear aids – its not that big a problem as I hear ok, have the TV at a lower volume than most people. I can hear cymbals, subtle nuances of various musical instruments etc. And my “loss” varies with air pressure (proven and reliable). Yes, at lower altitudes my hearing is way better than at higher altitudes, AND varies with impending bad weather (storms etc especially).
    My mum (94) never had aids. but she definitely needed them! If we went to visit her we (and the neighbours!) knew she was home! You could hear the TV from the street!
    She suffered two strokes, and while in hospital recovering, one of her friends (a much younger friend) visited her and was wearing her new hearing aids. Having a respected friend recommend them to her was the key. She said “When I get out of here, the first thing I will get are hearing aids! Now I know what I am missing out on!”
    So, off to a hearing specialist (free initial assesment). Yes, aids would help. So we signed up. The specialist was fantastic. Nothing was too much trouble. It took a long while to get them “just right” but eventually all good. Only issue she had (had…) was replacing the tiny batteries. (I could do that for her). But now, she manages that herself also, (tiny batteries, arthritic hands and all).
    The cost? Nothing. There is an annual $45 maintenance charge which means if there’s any problem, free service. Free ongoing tests, and free batteries delivered to her home.
    And they are the tiny behind-the-ear type aids (smaller than the ones pictured above) you cant notice the tiny tubes that lead the sound into her ear. They are hidden by her hair.
    Changed her life? She wont go out without them. Battery life? She loosens the battery cover when they are not in use. Batteries last well over a week, depending on how much she uses them. But a week is the normal. And they give a low battery warning about 30 minutes before they run out. And, as I mentioned before, she is 94.
    If in doubt… DO IT!

    • 0
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      Thank you for your comment On the Ball, that’s a great story and I’m glad they helped your Mum so much. A great deal on the maintenance charge too!

  5. 0
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    What do you do with someone whose doctor sends him to an audiologist, gets a hearing aid, and refuses to wear it? It’s not him, you understand, we mumble!

    • 0
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      You can go to audiologist without referral from a doctor, and the testing is free (they charge it to medicare. ) I was a bit suspicious as I know they tend to recommend aids for the commissions. But I was surprised , she told me I have nothing wrong with my hearing and my hearing was in the range of a much younger person. Wish the same also applied to my knees.

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      Hmm.. maybe show him this article? 🙂

  6. 0
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    I have been wearing hearing aids since early 1990’s. Am now 74. When new wearers get their hearing aids the provider will usually say that it will take a while to “get used to them” It does and I believe that many newbies just expect everything to be instant success.
    You must persist and return to your provider constantly until you get the aids adjusted to your liking. You must be patient and not blame others around you.. You must wear them as much as possible until you get “your normal” set up for your hearing. Your provider wants you to be happy. You want to be happy. Your family wants you to be happy. So…. just persist and you will have the best extension to your life’s experiences that science and technology has to offer.

    • 0
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      Thanks for your input J, I imagine it would be quite odd when you first start to wear them. Almost as though you need to learn how to hear again, but in a different way.

    • 0
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      I think it’s not only an issue of adjusting the aids to you, but also your brain adjusting to the sounds you now hear. For example, you hear a hum you’ve never heard. What’s that noise? Turns out to be the fridge. After a while your brain registers that’s not needed and filters it out. Our brain needs to process and give meaning to the sounds coming in. This is a discovery I made decades ago when having an ear drum “manufactured” which then allowed me to hear with that ear again. It took quite some time for my brain to adjust to my new eardrum. I couldn’t remove the drum so found humour in my new experiences. It’s no wonder it requires patience to persist with a hearing aid. The longer you’ve not heard the sounds, the longer it will take your brain to adjust.

  7. 0
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    Due to an accident, I have been deaf in my left ear since 10. Society has treated me in various ways, but I clearly remember who abused my hearing, knowing full well I was unable to hear. Have been tested for hearing aids, but as the ear bone was damaged, they have never been of any use. Now my balance is becoming a problem, and my general hearing is declining, the problems only get worse. Implants are out as well. Crowds are a pain, but people don’t like being ignored. Been like this for 65 years.

  8. 0
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    Yes Ella that is true regarding all the new sounds that the new hearing aids will introduce your brain. Some people will not readily accept the whole package of sounds that arrive . So that needs to be carefully explained. Cars seemingly roaring up and down streets, very loud ads on tv, people in crowds that seem to be over the top screaming, a clamour or music at the first Opera /live show, the dripping of a tap previously unknown, a dog’s barking nearby, the clatter and bang of washing up dishes – just a few of the many new sound experiences to absorb, sort and adjust . In between visits to the audiologist keep a diary of the loud discomforts, so the s/he can recognize what aid adjustments will help modify your comfort level. It will also help your audiologist to understand your lifestyle and prompt discussion on possible issues they can prepare you for. Just keep adding to the new repertoire of life’s new sound experiences and comprehend all life has to offer.


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