Hi, Mom, how’re you doing?
Fine, darling! This is a treat – are you staying for dinner?
No, I just dropped in for a coffee chat.
You usually phone, but this is nicer, face to face.
Well, that’s what I wanted to talk…
Sorry, dear, I didn’t catch that?
…Mom, I didn’t call you, because talking on the phone is tough these days. Do you think it’s time to get your hearing checked?
Oh, not that again! Darling, I did – and she said my hearing was normal for my age. Everyone has difficulty hearing past the age of 60.
Yeah, but Mom, you’re over 70 – and that checkup was two years ago!
You know, you’re not as nice as your sister. She doesn’t stick pins in me like this.
Mom, these are facts, not criticism. And you’re forgetting the part where the audiologist said it’s also normal to DO something about hearing loss.
You want me to spend thousands of dollars – that I don’t have – for hearing aids – which I really don’t need?
Mom, she said you DO need them!
All they want is to sell you a hearing aid. And besides, my hearing doesn’t bother your father.
Really, have you asked him? Mom, we all hate seeing you miss out on things. You tune out at family gatherings – which you always host, to make sure you’re too busy to sit and chat because you can’t hear what people are saying.
Darling, I do NOT have hearing loss. That term is way too dramatic for missing the odd word here and there.
You’re always asking us to repeat ourselves! We don’t mind, but you have to help yourself. Please, make another appointment. I’ll make it – and go with you!
Do you still want that coffee, or are you leaving?
Does any of that sound familiar?
When I first tell someone about my hearing loss, we usually have a short chat. I say I’m hard of hearing and could they speak up or face me. They say ‘oh, sorry’, and I say ‘oh, don’t be’. (They’re not really sorry, it’s just one of those polite, filler bits of speech that help move the conversation along.) These days, the chat often includes an extra question: My mother (or father-husband-friend) won’t admit her hearing loss and it drives our family nuts. How can I convince her to get hearing aids?
I’ve been tempted to joke ‘have you tried buying some and jamming them in her ears?’ But my usual response is a variation on: “Oh geez, I dunno, have you tried this, and hey, good luck with that!
It’s not easy to control or guide another person’s hearing loss journey. Studies show that it takes years for a person to resolve the Internal Debate – that period stretching from the first suspicion of hearing loss, whether it’s a personal thought or one offered up by a family member (Dad, you’re going deaf!), to actually doing something about it. The shorter the internal debate, the better – but the person must also accept help willingly, or at least not be dead-set against it. A family member dragged kicking, screaming or hog-tied to an audiologist by well-meaning loved ones will not be open to professional advice, certainly not on that day! And it may harden – into cement – their suspicions that the relatives are “out to get me” and that hearing care professionals are evil beings with a financial agenda.
Some families receive the advice to stop enabling a loved one’s poor communication. In an effort to force their hand to seek help, the family ‘should’ stop responding to pardon or what, refuse to speak up, and stop playing the translator in group conversations or on the telephone. I’m not a psychologist, but I share the belief with many other people who have hearing loss that this strategy, no matter how well-intentioned, is liable to be misinterpreted as insensitivity and lack of caring. It ignores the psycho-social issues at the heart of hearing loss, and could push the person further into isolation and frustration. At the very least, it will cause a few rousing arguments and many hurt feelings. The strategy might work with some people, but my blood runs cold at the thought of being subjected to this type of tough love.
Talking to Parents About Hearing Loss
My father always encouraged me to be open about my hearing loss, and now the shoe is on the other foot. I’m telling him about positive hearing strategies. After years of struggling with TV, he finally turned on the closed captioning – not because of my nagging, but because he really wanted to understand a favorite sitcom character. And after years of resisting hearing aids, he finally got a set, but that also had nothing to do with me; he and his lady friend simply love to chat and laugh. He adopted both strategies for his own reasons and on his own timeline. He was ready.
According to renowned hearing care researcher and hearing industry analyst Sergei Kochkin, the key reasons for a person’s resistance to hearing help include inadequate information, stigma, and lack of trust in hearing aid professionals. The reasons vary from person to person – and so does the success rate of family members who try to force a loved one to get hearing aids, before they are emotionally ready.
The next time someone asks me how to tell their mother she needs to do something about her hearing loss, this is what I will try to say:
She already knows. You’re not telling your mom something she doesn’t already suspect.
Treat her protests and decisions with respect, because your frustration is nothing compared to hers.
Show her that you’re not condemning her – or her hearing loss.
Demonstrate that better communication will be good for everyone in the family.
Let her know you want her to be safe.
Don’t refuse to accommodate her needs – what would that achieve? Even when she gets a hearing aid, you may still have to speak up, repeat yourself and discreetly relay the punch line she didn’t get.
Learn as much as you can about her hearing loss and the communication strategies that will help in her daily life. Understanding this will help you manage your frustrations.
Don’t give up – be persistent but patient.
Communicating well is ultimately her choice.