By Melissa K. Rodriguez, BC-HIS
A hearing loss is easy to ignore because there are no visible cues that push it to the “Things to Do Today” list. Many people who suffer from hearing loss are unaware that they are missing so much, and others think that they are getting by well enough or may reason that the degree of loss is not that bad. What people don’t know is that any amount of hearing loss can be a direct link to negative outcomes, such as loss of income, loss of a job, loss of a relationship, reduced mental health, depression and a lower quality of life.
So many people avoid getting the help they need to hear the world around them because they really don’t understand the negative impact that hearing loss has on their life and their future. If you recognize a loved one ignoring his/her problem, it may take a good deal of dedication on your part to encourage treatment. By following the six-point plan listed below, you’ll have an easier time empowering the one you love to make a change.
It is unfortunate that today’s society views hearing loss with shame and links it to aging. While not hearing can make people appear older and will cause the brain to begin improperly processing the surrounding world, hearing loss is simply a result of the body having some trouble. People often get sick, have pain, have difficulty seeing or moving. The longer a person lives, the more physical ailments they must conquer. Hearing loss is no different. Once hearing loss begins, the brain is given less information than when the ears were working properly. Over time this can lead to frustration and isolation. Treat your loved one who is experiencing hearing loss the same way you would if they had the flu. Be sympathetic and cater to their needs, don’t react with anger or frustration.
Unless you have an audiometer in your home and are trained to perform a hearing exam, refrain from telling your loved one that they can’t hear, that they are deaf or they need a hearing aid. Encourage them to seek out measurable results from a professional.
Remember, your loved one does not know what he/she is missing, but you do. For example, you may be at a social function where someone greets your loved one from afar, but your loved one has no response because they are unaware that someone was talking to them. Keep in mind that the person suffering from hearing loss truly believes that people are mumbling. They are missing important components of speech (t, s, f, v, sh), and this leads them to make excuses for why they don’t hear: “there was too much background noise” or “that person was walking away from me when they were talking.” If you heard it, they should have too. When you are alone, express concern and list the things that you saw them miss over the evening.
If your loved one refuses to acknowledge that something may be wrong, you must stop repeating what you say. Having a speaker repeat perpetuates a terrible habit that may go completely unnoticed to someone suffering hearing loss. Instead of repeating yourself or talking louder, write down what you said and hand it to your loved one. At first they may be angry and defensive, but if you can keep it up (while still having compassion) they will begin to notice how many times they are asking you to repeat. Do not buy in to their excuses and do not stop communicating with them. This will encourage a natural inclination to withdraw from their life.
As human beings our need to communicate with others is as basic as our need for nourishment. We feel validated and loved when we are listened to. On the other hand, if we feel ignored and shut out, we begin feeling angry and resentful. When your loved one does not hear you completely it is natural to feel frustrated and respond with anger and accusations; however, this will only cause your loved one to deny their problem and blame the outside world, further complicating your communication ability and the intimacy of your relationship. Instead, find a good time to sit down and express your need to be heard, explain how much you love to communicate with them and that you feel like something is getting in the way of this important part of your relationship. Suggest having your hearing tested together.
If your loved one is at home alone or drives alone and is unwilling to seek help for their hearing loss, you need to be very firm in demanding positive measures to keep them safe when you’re not there. Security alarms with motion detectors inside or outside of the house and an extra-loud telephone ring are useful safety measures. You must also discuss safety when driving. Hearing loss causes the brain to react more slowly to the input it receives, and that slowed reaction time could be the difference between arriving home safely or getting into an accident.
In conclusion, if you ignore your loved one’s hearing loss and pretend that nothing is wrong, you are enabling their acceptance of a life-altering disability. Your loved one could become “addicted” to not hearing the world around them. Change will be hard, but ultimately the quality of their life will be better and as they age they will benefit from having quality relationships, rather than becoming isolated and depressed.
Published July 24, 2012.
Melissa Kay Rodriguez, BC-HIS, literally grew up in the hearing aid business. The daughter of a Beltone dispenser, she obtained her license to fit hearing aids soon after graduating from high school. She earned her National Board Certification in 1995. Currently, she is owner of Hear On Earth Hearing Care Center in El Paso, TX. Rodriguez has been a member of the board of the Texas Hearing Aid Association and served a six-year term on the Texas Governing Board, which regulates the fitting and dispensing of hearing aids in her state. She is an active volunteer with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and has gone on numerous humanitarian missions to fit hearing aids in Juarez and Mexico City, Mexico, and in Peru, among other locations. She is a member of the International Hearing Society, the Texas Hearing Aid Association, and eWomenNetwork. Her new book, Hear Your Life: Inspiring Stories and Honest Advice for Overcoming Hearing Loss, is available in bookstores nationwide and on Amazon here. For information on the book, go to www.hearwithmelissa.com.