Talking to a Loved One About Hearing Loss

For many adults, hearing loss is something that happens as you get older. In fact, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America, hearing loss is the third most prevalent health condition in older adults. It affects approximately 20% of Americans, or about 48 million people.

While hearing loss can be caused by many factors including injury or exposure to loud noise, there is also age-related hearing loss which is called presbycusis. This condition is challenging because it results in a slow loss of hearing over time, which can make it hard for people to notice if their hearing is getting worse. It can also be easily complicated by other factors, such as “it was hard to hear because there were so many people at the party,”or “I didn’t hear the doorbell because I was in the back room.”

When my mother began to make comments such as these, at first our family gave her the benefit of the doubt. But over time, we started to notice other signs such as problems hearing the television at a normal volume, or not being able to understand if someone wasn’t facing her when they spoke.

Acknowledging hearing loss is not a reality everyone is comfortable facing. As we get older it becomes more difficult to accept when or why our bodies may not work the same way as they used to.

Even once a person is aware there may be an issue, accepting hearing loss can be emotionally challenging. It’s important to help preserve a person’s dignity when talking about a sensitive health issue such as hearing loss, which can feel like a loss of independence in many ways.

Here are some tips for talking to a loved one about hearing loss:

  1. Talk in person, in a comfortable setting. Don’t approach the topic in front of others, which can cause embarrassment, or over the phone, which can seem impersonal. Set up a time to talk one to one in an environment where they feel safe and not defensive. You still may need to approach the topic several, or more, times. But keeping their feelings at the forefront of the conversation is important.
  2. Focus on the facts. It can be helpful to talk about how common hearing loss is, as a way to help reduce the stigma of aging. Knowing there are millions of Americans who are affected by hearing loss lets them know they are not alone. It might not make it easier to accept, but knowing the facts can help keep the conversation from feeling like a personal criticism.
  3. Share support and solutions. Let them know that you are there to help in any way, whether that be setting up a hearing screening or shopping for hearing aids if they choose to use them. Be empathetic and let them know you understand how they are feeling.
  4. Be mindful of how you communicate. You can also make small changes to help improve conversations you have with someone who has hearing loss. For example, face the person directly when you talk, and keep your hands away from your face when you are speaking.

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Photo credit: A Healthier Michigan

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