How to Support a Loved One with Hearing Loss

Navigating hearing loss is difficult, it can be isolating and can lead to a breakdown in relationships. Learn how to support a loved one with hearing loss.

Navigating hearing loss can be very difficult which is why it’s important for family members, friends, and even colleagues to learn how to support a loved one with hearing loss. A hearing loss can seriously impact one’s ability to communicate with loved ones, leading to frustration, misunderstandings, and sometimes even arguments. This is a time when it’s important to have a conversation with your loved one to find common ground, understand what they’re experiencing, and stand by their side. 

Emotional effects of a hearing loss

An untreated hearing loss can often manifest in outbursts of anger, low self-esteem, depression, and embarrassment. Having a hearing loss can also lead to increased fatigue as it takes a lot more effort to listen than for someone with normal hearing. It may feel like your loved one’s personality is changing. People with a hearing loss often retreat and become less likely to engage in social interactions.

Understanding these effects is the first step towards a better relationship. Instead of blaming your loved one, try to understand their frustrations and what they are going through. Put yourself in their shoes and try to be empathetic, it will make a significant difference. Remind your loved one that treating a hearing loss with a hearing aid can help with better communication and ultimately, improve relationships.

5 stages of emotions

When a hearing loss is diagnosed it can come as a relief because it means the first steps can be taken towards treatment. Remember, however, that your loved one may not experience the same relief. Grieving the loss of hearing and accepting help can be a process. Your loved one may not readily accept that they have a hearing problem and may experience a whole range of emotions:

  • Denial: Once a diagnosis is made a lot of people deny that they have a problem. Often years can go by before they are ready to accept the diagnosis and take the next steps toward treatment. Forcing a loved one to get a hearing aid is not helpful. Rather talk them through their feelings so they can move towards the next stage of the grieving process.
  • Anger: Feelings of anger can be directed towards loved ones or the hearing care professional. These feelings are normal and valid. 
  • Bargaining: Your loved one is starting to accept the hearing loss but may not be emotionally ready to seek treatment. They may now reach out to you and begin talking through their feelings.
  • Depression: Your loved one may feel sad and helpless and this may lead to feelings of depression. It’s important to keep an eye on their mental health.
  • Acceptance: Your loved one has now worked through their feelings and is ready to take the next steps.

How to help your loved one once a hearing loss is diagnosed

1. Become involved in their hearing care appointments

Getting a new hearing aid can be very overwhelming for your loved one. They are bombarded by a lot of information and may struggle to take it all in. Listen to the instructions on how to care for the hearing aid with them and go through it again with them once you get home. This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions. Remember, suddenly your loved one is hearing a lot of sounds they are not used to. This may be completely overwhelming for them. Having a support system here can be very helpful. Allow them to express their frustrations, or be emotional about what they have missed. This is also an opportunity to share in their joy and excitement.

2. Don’t get frustrated

It can be very frustrating when your loved one hears incorrectly. Don’t get angry if they ask you for repetition several times.  Do not raise your voice, rather calmly talk things through and repeat what you said. Ask them for ways to help them understand better. Context is important. Often if your loved one understands what you are talking about, it’s much easier for them to make out specific words you are saying.

3. Modify your environment

Making simple environmental modifications can be very helpful for someone with a hearing loss. Always make sure your face and lips are clearly visible when talking. Lip reading is a big part of communication for the hearing impaired and your job is to make this as easy as possible. A hearing aid does not reduce the need for lip reading. It is exactly what it says- an aid to help you hear better. It does not restore your hearing back to normal. Good lighting and distance from the speaker are very important. Make sure you sit close to your loved one in order for them to see your lips move and hear you well. Carpets and curtains can help reduce reverberation in a room. Your loved one may struggle to hear you more in big open spaces such as large halls or open-air events. Think of creative ways to communicate if understanding is a problem, using gestures or even writing.

4. Speak slower, not louder

Speaking slower is the best trick to foster understanding. Shouting and raising your voice accomplishes nothing, and can often lead to less understanding and added frustration. It may distort your words and people with hearing loss are often sensitive to loud sounds. Remember to speak clearly but naturally. Speaking unnaturally slowly can make your loved one feel patronized, the same way speaking louder will. Patience goes a long way. Try to rephrase a sentence when repetition is not working.

5. Inform your loved one if they misheard something

If you see your loved one is not following a conversation, take the time to fill them in on what you are talking about. Hearing when several people are speaking can be very difficult. Check-in with them to see if they heard and understood what you said. Give them a bit of notice when you are going to change the topic. Make sure you don’t talk over them; it can lead to feelings of frustration and isolation.

6. Get their attention before speaking

Say your loved one’s name before starting to speak or tap them on their shoulder to get their attention. Face to face conversations are much easier for people with hearing loss, so make sure you never start speaking from another room or behind their back.

7. Reduce background noise

If you are in the kitchen, wait for the kettle to boil before talking. Switch the television off while in the living room. These background noises drown out the sound of your voice, which leads to frustration on both sides.

And lastly….

Practice patience, give love, and support! Try to understand that hearing loss is a journey, not a destination. Even with the most expensive hearing aids in the world, communication can still be a challenge – especially with more severe hearing losses. Foster good communication habits and start making communication fun again.

Written byNadia van Eyssen

B. Communication Pathology Audiology

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