How to support a loved one with hearing loss

Mar 10, 2023
Helping your loved one with hearing loss. Source: Getty

Hearing loss is a significant health issue in Australia, affecting approximately 3.6 million people, or 15 per cent of the population. The prevalence of hearing loss increases with age, with around 70 per cent of people over the age of 70 experiencing some degree of hearing loss.

Hearing loss can be a challenging and isolating experience, but the good news is, with the right support and understanding, individuals with hearing loss can lead fulfilling lives. With some simple adjustments to your communication style, you too can help your loved one with hearing loss stay connected and engaged.

Speaking to your loved one one-on-one is recommended when addressing your concerns about their hearing loss. Source: Getty

How to start the conversation when they’re in denial

Starting a conversation with someone who has hearing loss can be challenging, but there are several strategies you can use to communicate effectively.

Plan what you want to say

Before approaching your loved one with your concerns, consider engaging in a conversation with your family members and inquire about whether they have noticed any signs of hearing loss in your loved one. It is highly likely that they have picked up on it. Ask them to share their observations, concerns, and challenges that they have encountered as a result.

Take some time to jot down the following:

  • Your own observations of your loved one’s hearing loss
  • The impact it has had on their personal quality of life
  • How it has affected you and other family members

The purpose of this list is not to use it as a weapon during an argument, but rather as a tool to collect your thoughts and prepare for a crucial discussion.

Find the appropriate time and place

Find a suitable time and location to have a meaningful conversation with your loved one about their hearing loss, and remember that it should be an open dialogue. Choose a time when both of you are relaxed and not distracted, and find a quiet spot where your loved one can hear you clearly.

Start by pointing out your observations then give your loved one a chance to share their thoughts and feelings on the matter. If they become defensive, it might be best to drop the topic for now and revisit it later.

If they express denial, try to give them examples of how their hearing loss has affected the family negatively. This will help them understand the importance of addressing the issue and seeking help. Remember to approach the conversation with empathy and understanding.

Be in it together

Clinical Professor Catherine Birman, a pioneer in the field of cochlear implants and the Medical Director of NextSense Cochlear Implant Program, explains that nowadays, it’s a lot easier to become more aware of your hearing loss because there are more accurate apps that you can test your hearing at home and get an idea if you are in the normal range of not.

“They now have apps, such as Mimi Hearing Test, that you can download onto your phone. And if you had AirPods, you can actually get quite a good ‘screening’ of your hearing. And if that’s abnormal, then you’ve got the reason to go to the audiologist to take a formal test”.

Professor Birman also suggests that you and your partner could use the app together, and then you could both go in for a hearing test together and make it a combined effort.

“You’ll then have a reason to go see an audiologist for a formal test, and you could even go for a coffee afterwards!”

Be supportive

The truth is, accepting hearing loss is a personal journey and each person’s experience will be different. Some individuals may prefer to contemplate the discussion in silence and may not have much to say afterwards. Others may want to start an argument, but that’s not necessarily a negative outcome.

When hearing loss becomes a touchy topic, initiating a conversation can unleash a flood of emotions. It’s important to let them express themselves without interruption and consider showing your support by offering to get your hearing tested as well.

There are plenty of ways to support your loved one with hearing loss on their journey to better hearing. Source. Getty

Communicating with someone who has hearing loss

Effective communication requires active participation from both the listener with hearing loss and their communication partner. Both parties can take steps to minimise communication challenges.

Here are some strategies that can be used by both the listener and communication partner to improve conversation:

1. Don’t try to hide your hearing loss

Listener: Recognising and acknowledging your hearing loss can encourage others to communicate with you more clearly and directly. Informing your conversation partner of your hearing difficulties can also reduce misunderstandings and avoid situations where it may appear that you are ignoring them.

Communication partner: When speaking to someone who relies on hearing aids or experiences hearing loss, it’s important not to shout or overemphasize your mouth movements. Instead, speak clearly, a bit slower, and a bit louder. Pausing between phrases can also give the listener time to process what you are saying.

2. Consider using hearing aids

Listener: If you have hearing aids, it’s recommended that you wear them regularly to improve your hearing ability. However, if you don’t have them, it’s worth consulting with a hearing healthcare professional to explore available hearing assistive technology. In recent years, there have been significant advancements in hearing aids and other assistive devices that can enhance communication and simplify everyday interactions

Communication partner: If you notice that the person you are talking to is struggling to communicate and does not use hearing aids or other assistive technology, it may be helpful to suggest seeking help through modern digital technology or other assistive devices.

3. Don’t be afraid to verify what you think you heard

Listener: If you’re unsure whether you’ve correctly understood a message, it’s best to confirm the details with the person who spoke. Taking this step may prevent potential complications later on.

Communication partner: If you need to give directions, such as for a meeting location or time, it’s helpful to check with your partner who has hearing loss to ensure they understand. You could ask, for instance, “Does that make sense?” to confirm their understanding.

4. Listen with your eyes

Listener: When engaged in conversations, make an effort to consistently observe the speaker’s face, as it may also provide valuable context to aid in comprehension.

Communication partner: Avoiding covering your mouth with your hands or other objects, such as a menu in a restaurant, can ensure that your lips and facial expressions are visible to your communication partner, making it easier for them to understand you.

5. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Listener: It’s important to have patience, not only with yourself but also with your loved ones and those you interact with daily. Refrain from blaming yourself or others for communication difficulties. Instead, utilise the strategies mentioned above and maintain a positive mindset, even during challenging moments. Keep in mind that some days may be more challenging than others, but a positive outlook can make all the difference in overcoming obstacles.

Communication partner: Remind yourself that while conversing with someone who has hearing loss may be challenging for you, it’s even more challenging for them. Utilise these communication strategies mentioned and remember to be patient, and value your own hearing abilities.

There are many types of assistive hearing technology available to cater to the type of hearing loss your loved one may have. Source: Getty

The next step

Hearing is a crucial element in connecting with our loved ones and engaging with the world around us. It enables us to communicate our deepest thoughts and emotions. The conversations we share with our loved ones also help to maintain brain health so it’s vital to protect our hearing and continually adapt as we age. Early intervention is crucial to preserving hearing and minimising the impact on the brain.

If you have any worries about your loved ones hearing and are exhibiting any signs of hearing loss, it’s recommended that they schedule a hearing test with an audiologist. This test can determine the type and extent of your hearing loss.

Learn more about the link between healthy ageing and hearing loss

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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