Admitting to hearing loss is often the first step in seeking help. There are ways to help a loved one who might be unwilling to face or even completely unaware of their hearing loss.
"Forgive me when you see me draw back when I would have gladly mingled with you. I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed."
Ludwig Van Beethoven on his hearing loss
When someone we love is suffering, whether it is a 24 hour bug or something more serious, our immediate reaction is to comfort them. This is no less true with hearing loss. A loved one dealing with hearing loss invokes in us a need to compensate for their problem. We speak slower, louder, and repeat ourselves, often. This might seem like a harmless, though slightly annoying, way to make their lives easier, but as the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) points out, “When we do these good deeds for loved ones with a hearing loss, what we don’t realize is that we’re assisting in their failure to seek help.”
Seeking help for hearing loss is the most important and most decisive way for your loved one to live an easier, more engaged life.
Except for children with hearing loss, you cannot make the decision for your loved one when it comes to hearing loss. In fact, if your loved one becomes more dependent on you to reinterpret the world, he or she loses a vital part of their individuality. As Mary Kaland & Kate Salvatore discuss in their article, The Psychology of Hearing Loss, “Late-deafened adults often report that their hearing loss robs them of an understanding of their identity and often initiates an identity crisis.” This can lead to withdrawal and depression.
How can you help a loved one recognize and hopefully act on their need for help?
First, it’s good to settle your own emotions in this situation. BHI has addressed one of the chief complaints of people who are dealing with a loved one who has hearing loss in their article, “When a Loved One Resists Help for Their Hearing Loss—Detail.” Reading this is a way to start to organize your feelings and thoughts, so that you can begin to address the needs of your loved one.
Everyone reacts differently when confronted with hearing loss, but a common first reaction to hearing loss is denial.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) points out, “Having a hearing loss has been described as an invisible handicap, especially in the social realm.” The hidden nature of this condition means that it’s easier for a person with hearing loss to “pretend” nothing is wrong. That means the best thing you can do to help them accept this condition is to stop and do nothing. This is not nearly as easy as it sounds.
In order to help someone recognize they are having an issue with hearing loss, the crutch—the person enabling them by speaking louder or repeating or interpreting conversations, has to remove their support.
Removing support from the person with hearing loss in order to get them to recognize their problem can feel and seem cruel, but in actuality it is a benefit to the individual. One of the toughest parts of this condition is recognizing there is a problem. Hearing loss is addressed so infrequently in our society that it is not part of the culture or lexicon to easily interpret and define what is happening. A person with hearing loss is more likely to think, “I don’t feel like going out” then “My hearing loss makes me feel uncomfortable in social situations.” So explaining to them that it tires you out to raise your voice, repeat what others say, or answer questions about what was just said on the television, will help them to recognize the problem and could result in them finally addressing the situation.
Acceptance won’t happen overnight.
According to the center for Hearing Loss Help, “People with hearing loss advance through the… five stages of grief as they say goodbye to the hearing they once enjoyed and prepare themselves for their new lives as hard of hearing people.” These stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance aren’t clearly delineated. A person with hearing loss can be in one or more stage at the same time, and they can go from seeming acceptance back to denial when the effects of hearing loss on certain aspects of their lives become too much for them to handle.
Be supportive through the stages of grief and acceptance that accompanies hearing loss.
Remember to offer options and hope. Remind your loved one that hearing aids are powerful and precise technologies with many variations. The person might not acknowledge the choices right away, but the possibility of taking action will stick with them, so that when they are ready they will be more likely to return to it.
Turn to People Hearing Better.
Many people have shared their own stories of hearing loss with People Hearing Better and how they have dealt with it in positive ways. These stories can help to provide your loved one with inspiration and a feeling of not being alone with their hearing loss—and that, after all, is exactly why people who have gone through this process have graciously shared their stories. There are also many famous people with hearing loss—including Bill Clinton, Pete Townsend, and William Shatner, and Sally Field. Sometimes it is easier for someone to relate to these public figures, seeing them in the news going about their lives, so relating their stories might also help to “normalize” hearing loss.
Help your loved one to see hearing loss as manageable, introduce them to new technologies, and remind them it is also something that many people live with successfully every day.
Introduce your loved one to a hearing loss community that is supportive—such as the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), SayWhat Club (SWC), the Speak-up Librarian, and the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA). The People Hearing Better blog can also serve as part of this community. There are many different resources on this blog that speaks of hearing loss options in positive and informative ways. There is advice and links to different sites that can help make this transition easier.
Be patient with your loved one.
Remember how difficult and tragic this loss is to the person whose life has been altered. They must now adjust to a new life and learn to adapt to the changes in their hearing. Perhaps Helen Keller said it best, “Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people.”