mom has hearing loss

How to Tell Your Mother (She Has Hearing Loss)

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?telling mom

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.

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.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for your insight, Gael. I also advise loved ones to initially stress a hearing evaluation and not necessarily bringing up hearing aids. The issue of trust is quite big and as an audiologist we want out patients to feel comfortable and of course to trust us. The first ‘foot in the door’ is to complete the evaluation and provide them with the results and recommendations, which in many cases will be the use of hearing aids and or other assistive devices. Sometimes I think family members jump the gun or cause anxiety by bringing up hearing aids before they have even seen a professional.

  2. Hello Gael:

    You’ve provided some excellent advice for family members with this article. Many people are, of course, in denial about their hearing loss for various reasons, and it does cause lots of problems for that person (even if they deny it) and their family and friends. The key points as you suggest are to be understanding, supportive and communicate issues in a positive manner, then, the time when the person with hearing loss does make the decision to get help may happen sooner, rather than later. Remember, nobody likes to feel they are being pushed, but supported, yes. Bye for now!

  3. A hearing family member should attend the appointment with the hearing health provider. Some seniors buy hearing aids that end up in the draw just to please a family member. You could try a personal assistive listening device before the hearing aid so they realize how much what they are missing. Also mention captioning on the TV and program it in on their remote. Telephones with volume and tone control are also available.

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