Hearing Loss – A Family Affair

Yo, hearing care professionals!  Hey, hearing loss groups!  In your area, where can a family sign up for a communication strategies course? (And I’m not talking about mandatory programs involving a psychologist or the police.)

It’s tough enough for a hard of hearing person to find access to effective aural rehabilitation, let alone a program that includes communication partners like spouses and children past the spit-up stage.

The need is great. In many families, hearing loss is the elephant in the room, the monkey wrench thrown into family communication.  Attending even a single facilitated session on communication strategies can make a big difference in the quality of family life.  I know what you might be thinking – and to keep this animal analogy going – you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. People may not break down the door to sign up for the session or course, but the ones who do will find it life-changing.

It can be a bit lonely as the only HoH in the house. Just because a family is well-versed in effective communication strategies, doesn’t mean it actually practices them. This is not because of pettiness, negligence or a lack of caring, but simply because family members, in the moment, can forget the basics of good communication. A turned-away face or a question bellowed from upstairs can suck the pleasant air out of a room in two seconds flat, kick-starting a familiar scenario of rising irritation and heated words.

Me:   Why did you do that?

Him:  (sigh) Do what?

Me:   You started talking to me as you walked away. You KNOW I can’t understand when you do that.

Him:  Sorry, hon, I forgot.

Me:   You forgot, you forgot! How many times will it take before you remember..?

Him:  Until death do us part, OK? I will always forget sometimes, I can’t help it. Now, do you wanna know what I said, or not?

Hearing loss is a family affair. Its impact reaches beyond the personal to anyone within communicating distance. In my house, even after years together, simple mis-communications can still spark reactions ranging from an irritated laugh to full-on frustration. This is part of our more-or-less accepted family dynamic, and when the bad moment passes, we move on – time after time.

But the family affair has recently become more complicated.

One change involves the 17-year-old son who has already moved beyond our sphere of influence. The little boy who was raised to respect the gift of hearing and understand the consequences of hearing damage now enjoys his music at dangerous levels. There’s not much I can do beyond offering a supply of earplugs, which I can no longer stuff in his ears for him, and reminding (nagging) him that if he continues to abuse his hearing, we’ll be comparing hearing aids at some point in the future.

The other change involves his parents. Up until now, Mommy has been the only one playing in the hearing loss sandbox. But now Daddy may have stuck a toe into the sandbox, too. When it’s noisy, he doesn’t hear me as well as he used to. Recently, at a hearing health fair I was involved with, my husband signed up for a free hearing test. Although the testing environment was less than ideal, his hearing was ‘normal’ until 4000 Hz – and then kaboom, the famous noise damage notch!

The day may have arrived when the (former) Hearing Husband and I must practice two-way communication strategies. I now need to practice what I preach, making sure, for example, that he can see my face in order to understand what I’m saying.

But my husband and I have grown into this situation – I was already hard of hearing when we got married. What about the couples or families who experience hearing loss after years of being together? The emotional impact is often immeasurable. Internet resources such as personal blogs and consumer/professional hearing loss sites offer a great deal of helpful information, but don’t match the effectiveness of learning and practicing good communication strategies with real people.

Clients will be more successful, if hearing care professionals also help their families deal with the emotional barriers of hearing loss, clearing the way to better communication with real-life strategies that work.

The time is ripe to introduce family communication sessions. If a hearing professional in my area cares to offer one, I’ll sign up me and my boys. A good family dynamic is dependent on many things and handling hearing loss is definitely one of them.



About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. My husband has joined my HOH club and I am learning just how much he has accommodated me over the years. Now I must practise what I gave been preaching all these years.

  2. I was brought up in a family with a profoundly deaf father. We lived in a rural town in New Zealand (population 2,000) where there was no support and so I understand the barriers families experience when living with someone who has a hearing loss. I now work with families of deaf children and try to address this in my visits to them. Your comments are a good reminder that this is the case for many other families, especially with older family members, in my community that experience what I did. I will now explore my community and see whether there is a need to provide such a service, especially as I hae the skills and experience. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Thanks for this one, Gael. I often suggest to our chapter members to invite their significant others to attend our meetings. I promise right now to use this as a topic for a meeting asap & really urge the family to attend.

  4. Great article. I can relate. One resource is to find the nearest local HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) chapter and attend their monthly meetings. They have great speakers covering a wide range of subject matter that I find helpful.

  5. Gael–LOVELY photo! And keep telling (nagging) your son to wear his earplugs!!! At some point it may stick. Maybe some custom, low-profile earplugs would help; as you have pointed out in a previous column about wearing hearing aids when you were younger, most kids don’t like to appear “different.” At least he can never say you didn’t tell him so. My teens would probably (maybe) wear them…IF they remembered and IF they didn’t lose them first! Argh!

  6. Gail, even as a couple who both have hearing loss, Monique and I often run into communication issues like this! Probably not as often, but yep, still happens :). With your husband on his way to joining our quieter world, you will realize it’s pretty freaking hard to remember all the time… and annoying sometimes too! The only way I would see this issue being completely resolved is if the entire world had hearing loss.

      1. Most of the time, I have to admit, it’s my fault! Either I’m too tired or too lazy to actually ‘listen’ – even as a HoH, I am prone to the same issues as those with ‘normal’ hearing. However, I agree with you that it is truly a family affair – it can either bring you closer or drive you apart, it all boils down to how you handle the situation. Great article Gael!

  7. I can totally relate. I, too, had hearing loss when we got married. My children ONLY knew me as a mother with hearing loss. Yet, when they reached their teen years, we learned “what stuck” and what did not.

    Great post and reminders that hearing loss IS a family affair. We cannot pretend otherwise!

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