As Helen Keller once said, “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.” When it comes to hearing loss, interpersonal relationships are impacted but we may not immediately know why. In part this is because hearing loss is an invisible condition that occurs gradually. As hearing abilities become diminished, people learn to make adjustments in order to accommodate their current hearing abilities – often times without even realizing that their hearing abilities have changed. With a loved one, especially a spouse or partner, it is much easier to see these changes. Hearing loss affects communication, as well as one’s emotional well-being. Untreated hearing loss could cause people to withdraw from their friends and loved ones, and avoid social situations. At the core, it is because hearing loss affects our abilities to recognize speech and communicate. When clear communication is the foundation of healthy relationships, this breakdown could lead to a rift in marriages, friendships, and family relationships. For this reason, it is important to encourage a loved one to seek treatment for hearing loss.
Noticing the Signs & Doing the Research
In a previous post, we reviewed the signs of hearing loss. Though hearing loss may not be immediately obvious, there are many indicative signs. If you see your loved ones exhibiting signs of hearing loss, you may want to learn more about the condition. There is a wealth of resources online about hearing loss. We recommend the Hearing Loss Association of America and the American Speech Language Hearing Association for resources on signs, consequences of untreated hearing loss, and treatment options. Readying yourself with information will help your conversation with your loved one about hearing loss.
Choose the Right Time and Place
People with hearing loss may have difficulty focusing on speech sounds against background noise, or they may struggle with words that sound similar. The configurations are different for everyone. As hearing loss affects the way people recognize speech, so it is important to choose a quiet time and place to have the conversation. Additionally, because hearing loss may be a sensitive topic, you may want to find a private place to have the conversation. With hearing loss, a tell-tale sign is when someone asks you to repeat what you say. Make sure that you are speaking clearly when speaking your loved one. Volume is not necessarily the issue; rather, focus on enunciation. Make sure you are facing your loved one when you speaking. A well-lit room is also important.
Talk About Your Own Experiences
It’s important to frame the conversation as concern from your point of view – rather than making statements that may put your loved one on the defensive. For example, rather than saying, “You don’t understand me when I talk to you,” you might want to say, “I’m concerned that when we’re having conversations, we may not be on the same page.”
Listen to Your Loved One
ClChances are, your loved one has already noticed changes in their hearing. Hearing loss can be a scary and isolating experience, so your loved one may feel relief that you’ve brought it up. Even if they are defensive at first, remain patient and listen to your loved one when they talk. Ask open-ended questions so that they feel comfortable sharing their experience about hearing loss.
Encourage Your Loved One to Take a Hearing Test
After listening to their experience, gently encourage your loved one to take a hearing test. Bring up the research you’ve done on hearing loss and discuss the many different consequences of untreated hearing loss. For example, Johns Hopkins University has conducted a series of studies that show the link between untreated hearing loss and a higher risk for developing dementia. Untreated hearing loss could lead to an increased risk for falls and accidents, since we depend on our sense of hearing to keep us safe. Most importantly, hearing loss affects our relationships with each other. Your concern shows your investment in your relationship with your loved one. Encouraging them to take a hearing test is the first step to treating a hearing loss that could otherwise create a rift in your relationship. Offer your loved one support as they journey to better hearing health.