If someone you love has started to lose their hearing, you might not know exactly what they’re going through or how it makes them feel. But you can take steps to help them adjust and get the help they need. Start with these six strategies.
1. Acknowledge their hearing loss. Hearing loss changes a lot of things, both for the person who lost it and those they love. If you act like nothing’s different, it can make it harder for your loved one to get used to living with hearing loss.
2. Discuss a hearing aid. Sometimes, the solution can be as easy as seeing your doctor or an audiologist, scheduling a hearing test, and getting your loved one fitted for a hearing aid. But that’s tricky. Only about 17% of Americans ages 20 to 69 who need hearing aids ever use them. The number goes up for people 70 and older, but only to 30% or so.
If you have a family member who could use hearing aids, opening the discussion is hard enough sometimes. For those in denial, a hearing test with an audiologist might be a good place to start. If you get push back after the appointment, hear their concerns. Then you can:
- See if test-driving some hearing aids will help. Most states offer a 30- or 60-day free trial period.
- Show them the newer hearing aids, which are more discreet than ones that were used only a few years ago.
- Appeal to your loved one’s sense of family. Make it known that this is a possible solution for everyone, not just the one with hearing loss.
- Remind your loved one how much life can change when you hear better.
3. Change the way you communicate. Hearing aids can help with hearing loss. But even if your loved one wears them, there will still be times when they can’t hear or communicate as well as they would like. You can change your own style to try to make sure your loved one understands what you’re saying. Whenever possible:
- Face your loved one directly.
- Make sure you have their attention.
- Try to talk in a place without a lot of background noise.
- Ask if there’s anything that would help them communicate. (For example, maybe they would like to move to a quieter room.)
- If they still have trouble hearing you, use visual cues. You can make facial expressions, for example, or point to what you’re talking about. Try not to block your face with hand gestures, though, this can make it harder for them to understand you.
- Speak clearly at a moderate pace. Don’t over-emphasize words or shout.
- Make sure it’s clear if you’re changing the subject. You can even say “new subject.”
4. Encourage them to seek support. They should be working with a hearing specialist, such as an audiologist or an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Ask if you can take them to or join them at appointments. Or, you can schedule those visits for them.
It also may help them to meet other people with hearing loss. They can offer strategies to deal with common problems, share resources, and discuss technology (like hearing aids, phones, and cochlear implants) that have helped them.
Your loved one’s hearing specialist may be able to recommend a support group. The Hearing Loss Association of America also has statewide chapters where people can come together to share and learn.
5. Discuss aural rehabilitation. Also called audiologic rehabilitation, these services teach people to adjust to hearing loss, learn how to use hearing aids and other helpful devices, manage conversations, and improve their communication. Services can be one-on-one or in small groups or classes. You may want to think about enrolling in a class with your loved one.
6. Be patient. It takes time to adjust to hearing loss. If your loved one seems hesitant to make changes, know that it’s normal. If you’re concerned about the way they are behaving, talk to them directly about it instead of telling others you’re worried. Try to stay positive and relaxed. The more supportive you are, the easier it will be for your loved one to adjust and get help.