“If I say anything about his hearing loss it would push him out at least another 5 years from getting help.”
This is what one of my patients said to me the other day about her husband as we discussed hearing aids for her. She actually came into my office with a mild hearing loss, wanting to get hearing aids not only so she could be more engaged in conversations, but to prevent further decline of her word understanding over time. But the kicker, she also wanted to show family and friends that addressing health needs was far more productive than ignoring them. I was blown away. I hope her loved ones can see in her that taking care of yourself sooner rather than later is one of the wisest investments you can ever make!
So, she will be hearing better soon and is up for the challenge…but what about her husband?
She is in the same position so many of us are. We KNOW that someone we care about has a hearing loss and either they are simply unaware of what they are unaware of or they are intentionally ignoring it. Often when it seems the prospect of treating something is too expensive and maybe not helpful enough, it is easier to ignore it. And this is why education is so important! People are ignoring it in part because treatment options seem to be too grim. ‘Ugly and expensive hearing aids that make me look old! I’m not having enough trouble yet to warrant such a sacrifice.’ But this probably isn’t the truth for them if they can find a good audiologist.
Hearing loss can be the proverbial elephant in the room that nobody wants to address.
Like so many things, telling someone something they don’t want to hear can often be counterproductive. We cannot disregard how we think someone might react to to being told they have hearing loss and they need to do something about it. We can, however, muster up our courage to tell the people we love what WE NEED to maintain a healthy relationship now and in the future.
We don’t have to say “YOU HAVE TO do something about your hearing loss,” instead one can say, for example,
“Your hearing loss is affecting me and my ability to connect with you – I don’t feel like I can engage in conversation with you nearly as well as before, sometimes it feels like I’m alone in a conversation with you. I need more than that in our relationship and I’m asking you to at least talk to an audiologist about options.”
Or, “I really want to have a conversation with you but it is a lot of work to constantly repeat myself and know you are pretending you understood me. I need you to meet me halfway and take care of whatever changes are occurring with your hearing, otherwise, I can see how we might start to drift apart.”
It would also obviously be helpful to deliver this information (and anything else for that matter) in a way that they can actually hear you. Take a look at my video blog on communication tips here for a helpful demonstration.
Because it is a choice to get hearing aids or to change communication patterns, you cannot force someone to do this if you want a sustainable outcome. In fact, people who come in to my office forced to get hearing aids usually return them or never use them.
Most of the time I say I don’t feel comfortable even selling them hearing aids in the first place if they say they truly don’t want them at all. But if they made it all the way to my office, there’s usually some small amount of interest. So, I take this opportunity to give them information and explain how a free hearing aid trial works. In the US, everyone gets at least a 30 day trial with hearing aids (you pay for the hearing aids up front but can get a full refund less a small fitting fee if returned in working order).
The point is, forcing people or coming from trying to control usually doesn’t work. But explaining the impact of the problem and the potential consequences gives people the information they need to make their own choices. The same is true for my clients with hearing loss when their spouse keeps trying to talk to them from another room, with the TV on, or turns away while talking – they have to tell their spouse what they need to understand them, but demanding someone to communicate a certain way doesn’t work.
As they say, ‘communication is a two-way street’ and it can take a great deal of compassion and strength to maintain and build strong communication skills in any relationship, with or without hearing loss.
To be clear when I say coming from compassion, I don’t mean babying at all. It helps to see where someone stands so you can respect and reach them more effectively. For example, it’s good to know that slowly (or suddenly) becoming hard of hearing can make listening very draining, make people feel insecure that people think they are old or not intelligent. Imagine asking someone to repeat what they have said because you didn’t hear it and they brush you off and say “Ugh, Nevermind!” Generally, it makes people frustrated and isloated, it does not matter your age. It’s an invisible disability that can disconnect us from the people and things we love and it’s easy to not even know the problem is hearing loss.
I encourage you to learn more about the risks of leaving hearing loss untreated and find the time and the gusto to sit down and say what is needed for your relationship, the person you love, and yourself.
Still lost on what to say? Let me know and we can work on it.