This exclusive content is part of our How to Talk About Hearing Loss series. Read the content below, or download a PDF to print and share.
LIVING with the first stages of hearing loss can be difficult for everyone in the family. Miscommunication from hearing loss can lead to hurt feelings, isolation, or even depression. In some situations, like crossing the street or driving a car, loss of hearing can cause dangerous mistakes. Even though we know how important good hearing is to personal well being and family connectedness, talking about the problem is not easy.
Aging parents might associate hearing loss with a loss of independence and be reluctant to acknowledge it. They might worry about the expense of getting and maintaining a hearing aid. Pride may play a role, but it’s also possible that hearing loss has been so gradual, they’ve simply gotten comfortable with it. They may not realize what they’re missing, or how it affects the rest of the family.
So, it’s time to talk. If you’re reading this, you already know that you need to have the
conversation about hearing loss, but you may not know exactly how to start. To help,
we created a list of specific words, phrases, and questions you can use to talk about
hearing loss with your loved one. Be sure to find an appropriate time and safe place
to talk. No distractions. And, allow plenty of time for questions and conversation. It’s
a brave step, but talking to your parent or grandparent about their hearing loss will
lead to better living for them, and for the whole family.
You know I love you and I always want what’s best for you. I’ve noticed you’re not hearing as well as you used to, and I want to talk about that with you.
Starting with an expression of love and support is the right first step. Parents with hearing loss may already feel lonely, isolated, and even a bit defensive, and the pandemic may have heightened those feelings. Beginning with an honest expression of care and concern can create a safe space and reduce anxiety. So, start with love.
At dinner, or when we’re watching TV, you sometimes ask us to repeat ourselves. Other times, it seems you give up and stay quiet. I enjoy talking with you and I don’t want you to miss out on group
Often, the person with hearing loss is so worried about becoming a burden they withdraw and isolate. Let them know this is not an option. Tell them you enjoy being
with them and hearing what they have to say. Remind them how much you and the
rest of the household want them to be part of the family.
You don’t seem to play bridge as often as you used to. And you haven’t been going to the theater as much. Is that because it’s been harder to hear?
Give specific examples of times when you’ve noticed your parent missing out. It could be talking with friends on the phone, going out for meals, or even attending family
events. Focusing on the effects of hearing loss, rather than the hearing loss itself, turns the conversation toward solutions and positive outcomes, like “being able to play bridge again.”
You know, getting a hearing aid really isn’t any different than getting a pair of glasses.
Remind your parent that hearing loss, especially age-related hearing loss, is normal. In fact, the CDC estimates that nearly half of all Americans will need a hearing aid by their early seventies, but less than a third of them will use one.
Lots of people need to hear better or see better or use inserts in their shoes. So,
addressing these things is no big deal—while not addressing it could be. The World Health Organization (WHO) links better hearing with less risk for dementia or depression. The American Medical Association (AMA) reports that treating hearing loss can lower overall healthcare costs. From better brain function to healthier, happier living, there are many reasons to take action on hearing loss today—and no reasons to put it off.
At this point in the conversation, be ready for objections. “Hearing aids will make me look old.” “They’re too complicated.” “They’re uncomfortable.” “They never work like they’re supposed to.” “What do you expect me to do during a pandemic?” The next few questions and comments will help overcome these common excuses for not getting and wearing a hearing aid.
I’ve read that they’re doing some amazing things with hearing aids these days.
This one (and the next) requires a bit of homework, and it’s worth it. If your parent has avoided learning more about the latest hearing technologies, you can pleasantly surprise them with what you’ve learned. If they have done some research, they will appreciate the time you took to learn more so that you could have a meaningful
conversation with them.
What would you like a hearing device to do for you?
Again, this question focuses the conversation on the benefits of hearing better, not on the negatives of hearing loss. It also helps you and your parent identify the type of hearing solution that will work best for them. Be sure to emphasize features like comfort, noise cancellation, smartphone apps and how “invisible” most modern hearing aids are.
You can also talk about hearing amplifiers just for watching TV, or “hearables” that not only improve listening, but are great for using on the run, at the gym, or even while
swimming (yes, they make water resistant hearables!). Your parent might even use
different kinds of solutions for different situations. Have fun with the exploration and
share excitement about the possibilities.
I know hearing aids can be expensive, but there are lots of options and I’m sure we can find a great solution that fits our budget.
For many parents, the expense of getting and maintaining a hearing aid can be an intimidating factor. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position to help, assisting
with the cost may be the key to helping your parent take the next step. It’s also important to be aware of benefits they may not have thought about.
For example, some unions offer hearing aid benefits as part of their retiree benefit plans. Many U.S. Veterans are eligible for free hearing aids. It is hopeful that recent
legislation with the FDA will make overthe-counter hearing aids available in 2021,
which means less expensive options can be sold directly to consumers at drug stores.
Can we make an audiology appointment together? I’d love to drive you there. In fact, I’ll have a hearing assessment, too!
This is a critical step on the path to hearing better. An audiologist appointment involves a hearing assessment that includes questions about hearing situations and
Don’t let COVID-19 stop you from being there for your parent. Offer to drive them to the appointment or wait in the waiting room (if allowed). Reassure them that the proper safety protocols are in place. Having a close friend or family member of the patient involved makes the process less overwhelming. Also, having someone to talk about the experience with afterwards will reinforce the discussion and the commitment to taking next steps.
I know that finding the correct hearing aid and getting all the settings just right takes time. Let’s promise each other to be patient with the process. We’ll figure it out together.
It’s very important to set proper expectations for the hearing aid journey. There will be
bumps in the road as you experiment with fit and get all of the settings adjusted to fit
your parent’s unique situation and lifestyle. Be patient, knowing that hearing better is so important for enjoying life. Be sure to offer continuous encouragement and support
I think there are things we can do around the house, too, that might help.
Think about the overall listening environment in your home. What is the noise level like around the house? Are there things you can do to reduce overall noise levels? Your parent is probably spending more time than ever at home, like the rest of us, so making their space work for them is extremely important. Here are things you might consider:
- Listening devices for the TV, like “open ear” headphones, help you hear the television sound without turning up the volume for everyone else
- Extra insulation or sound baffling around noisy appliances, like a dishwasher or clothes dryer, significantly reduces background noise (or cover those appliances with a blanket when in use)
- Heaters or fans with noise-reduction features maintain the temperature in your favorite rooms while keeping the noise level down
- Window seals and/or heavier drapes reduce background noises coming from outside the home
- Inside the home, proper door seals block noises coming from other rooms (taking care of squeaky hinges can help reduce overall noise levels, too)
- Rugs for hard-surface floors keep footsteps quiet for people and pets
You and your family will have other ideas, too. As you get creative with solutions, you may find enhancing your listening environment becomes a fun “home improvement” project.
An Attitude of Gratitude
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me about this. I’m glad we have to plan to help you hear better!
Don’t forget to show your appreciation for their bravery in admitting they have hearing loss and talking about it. Remind them again how much you love them and how curious and excited you are to begin the hearing health journey with them. Working through the process together is an opportunity to build your relationship and become even closer. Most importantly, hearing better will help you both to stay connected—and that’s at the heart of hearing well.
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