As with all medical conditions, hearing loss can greatly affect the dynamics of a family. Hearing loss also requires accommodations by all members of the family to mitigate the changes that come with hearing loss. Communication is the foundation of all healthy relationships, and hearing loss affects the way we communicate – for both parties who experience hearing loss and parties who have family members with hearing loss. As Helen Keller once said, “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.” The same could be said of hearing loss, which can be a terribly isolating condition if not properly managed. Here, we take a look at the basics of hearing loss and how to improve communication with your family members who experience hearing loss.
First things first: Understanding Hearing Loss
earing loss is the third most common medical condition in the United States, affecting 48 million Americans. It is most prevalent amongst older Americans, age 65 and older. One in three people over 65, 50% of people over 75, and 80% of people over 85 experience some degree of hearing loss. Though it is a common condition, unfortunately hearing loss goes undiagnosed and untreated quite frequently. In part, this is because it is an invisible condition and it occurs gradually. For this reason, people may not be aware of their hearing loss until it has gotten progressively worse. The Hearing Loss Association of America reports that people wait an average of seven years from the time they first experience changes in their hearing to the time they decide to seek treatment. For this reason, we encourage people to begin taking annual hearing tests from the age of 50. If a hearing loss is not detected, it is still good practice to keep your hearing records on file. Hearing loss affects our ability to recognize sounds in our environment and understand speech. A common complaint among people with hearing loss is: I can hear, but I can’t understand. In other words, people with untreated hearing loss can hear sounds but cannot make sense of them. Sounds in their experience may be muffled or dull.
Improving Your Family Dynamic Begins Here
The most important step to improving communication with hearing loss is treating hearing loss. Seeking treatment is painless and simple: contact us at one of our Ear to Hear locations for a free hearing test. If a hearing loss is detected, we’ll work with you to find the best course of treatment. The most common course of treatment for hearing loss is the prescription of hearing aids. At Ear to Hear, we offer a wide range of models to meet diverse hearing and budget requirements.
Okay, hearing loss has been treated... now what?
If you have a family member with hearing loss:
- Before speaking, grab your family member’s attention first. If they happen to be engaged in a task, touch their shoulder gently to grab their attention. Make sure there is eye contact so that they know you are addressing them. You could also say their name a few times until you get their attention. Keep in mind that with hearing loss – even when it is treated with hearing aids – it may be difficult to differentiate speech noise from background noise. This is especially important when you’re both in a noisy environment.
- Keep in mind that there’s no need to speak louder than normal. You don’t have to raise your voice when talking to your loved one – especially if they have hearing aids. It’s more important to speak clearly – don’t mumble or speak too quickly. Hearing aids are equipped with excellent speech recognition features to capture what you’re saying. It also helps if you take a few pauses while talking, just in case your loved one needs to catch up.
- Above all else, don’t take it personally! If your family member doesn’t respond or responds in a way that doesn’t actually address what you’re saying, chances are they may have misheard or misunderstood what you’ve said. Rather than getting upset, take a moment and just repeat yourself.
If you have a hearing loss:
- The most important thing you can do to improve your familial relationships is to seek treatment for hearing loss. There are many benefits to seeking treatment, from improving your interpersonal relationships to reducing your risk for developing dementia.
- Communicate your needs clearly to your loved ones. If you need them to slow down while speaking or sit on your right side because you can hear better out of that ear, make sure to let them know!
- Wear your hearing aids! If you’ve been treated for hearing loss, make sure you regularly use your hearing aids. While they may be strange at first, over time you’ll find that they are indispensable. Hearing specialists recommend wearing your hearing aids from the time you wake up (after your bathroom routines) to the time you go to bed.