People who start to lose their hearing know it can have a big impact on life, but they may be surprised by the way it can affect their emotions. They might feel helpless or depressed, and get angry or frustrated. The same is true for parents of a child who has hearing loss.
All are normal reactions. But you can face those feelings and get through this tricky transition.
Don’t Hide Your Feelings
More than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. The news that your child is hearing-impaired can come as a shock. It’s normal to cycle through many different feelings, from denial to sadness or even guilt.
Hearing loss is more common later in life. One in three people over 65 have a hearing problem. The emotions that come at this stage may be different, but they can still be upsetting.
“Hearing loss is a loss like any other in our lives,” says Angela Nelson, a doctor of audiology in Burbank, CA. “It’s a death of part of an individual, [and you have] to move through the grief process.”
To do that, reach out to friends and family for help. You might also want to talk about your feelings with a therapist.
“A good support system is essential,” says Aaron Moberly, MD, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Adults who end up using a hearing aid or getting a cochlear implant need lots of social time so they can learn to hear again through their device, Moberly says. And for hearing-impaired children to learn good language and communication skills, it’s important for family members to be involved.
If your child is old enough to talk about his feelings, make sure you give him time to do so and are ready to listen. “Understandably, a lot of parents are so in their own grief that it ... seems to be center stage in place of their child’s grief and fears,” Nelson says.
Make Communication Easier
You won’t get used to living with hearing loss overnight. This is especially true for older people, who wait an average of 7 years to accept they have a problem and get treated.
When faced with the condition, “people often become isolated because social situations are so much more difficult,” Moberly says. If you’re the parent or spouse of someone who’s hearing-impaired, here’s how you can help them:
- Turn down background noise, like the TV or dishwasher.
- Call or say their name before you start talking.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Raising your voice can distort the sound of your words.
- Face the person when you speak so they can see your mouth and gestures.
- Try to talk in areas that are well lit, quiet, and calm.
Know Your Options
When you learn more about hearing loss, you can ease your anxiety and start to feel better. Plus, there are resources that can make your life easier. Get the help of a licensed audiologist or ear, nose, and throat doctor. They can help you learn about:
- Treatment options like hearing aids or cochlear implants
- Education plans that can help a child succeed in school
- Support groups in your area
- What you’ll need in the way of medical checkups
It can be frustrating to see a family member lose their hearing and do nothing about it. “I’ve had family and friends practically push or trick their ... loved one into my office,” Nelson says. “But you can’t force a person to change.”
A better strategy?
“Talk [to your loved one] about the things they’re missing out on in life and how these situations can improve,” Nelson says.
That said, hearing devices are not instant cures.
“It can take time for your brain to adjust to the sound coming through that hearing aid,” Moberly says. “The process involves learning to listen again, especially when it comes to speech understanding.”
When you’re losing your hearing, you may worry that your ability to communicate with everyone around you goes away, too. But that’s only true if you don’t get help.
“A child’s ability to learn and speak is directly related to their ability to hear,” says Paige Peterson, an audiologist specialist in Austin, Texas. “If a child can’t hear, the likelihood for speech delays and disorders increases.”
Older adults who don’t hear well may give others the impression that they’re not as sharp. They may become depressed or anxious. “Hearing loss also impacts [their] ability to talk with health care providers, emergency workers, and family, creating a significant health risk,” Peterson says.
But remember: The condition is treatable. “Life is too short to miss the laughter of kids or grandkids, the sound of a bird, or music,” Peterson says. “Take the leap and get back into the game.”