Having a family member or friend with untreated hearing loss can be a tough situation to navigate. You may be experiencing frustration over having to repeat things to them during conversations, or concern over them losing connection with family at gatherings.
Your loved one, meanwhile, may be anguished by a perceived stigma of hearing aids—or maybe not recognize their hearing loss as a serious problem at all. (Conversely, they may be grieving their hearing loss—learn more here.)
According to the National Council on Aging, one of the most common barriers to treating hearing loss is underestimating the importance of hearing health. Because hearing loss often occurs gradually, some may choose not to treat it until they see it significantly impact their daily lives.
Unfortunately, the longer hearing loss is left untreated, the more challenging it can become to treat. Worse yet, untreated hearing loss has also been linked to increased risk of dementia, falls, depression, and more issues.
This is where it becomes crucial for your loved one to get their hearing checked (regularly) and treat any hearing loss they may have. If that sounds like a tall order, know that your support and encouragement for them along this new journey could make all the difference.
Here are six ways you can help your loved one begin their journey to better hearing:
1. Be patient and supportive
Understand that you can’t possibly know everything your loved one is thinking or the true weight their untreated hearing loss is having on them—and be there for them. Just as you’d want them to support you if the situation were reversed, listen and be present. Be their advocate and let them know they can count on you, every step of their new health journey.
2. Remind them how their hearing loss also affects others
You might gently point out the frustration of having to repeat things (or be their "translator") during conversations. Or express concern over their safety as they potentially miss important traffic sounds, alarms, news alerts, or other information. Maybe, for you, it’s admitting your fear this person’s hearing loss may result in them becoming socially withdrawn, depressed, or suddenly lacking that standout confidence they once had: And what a misfortune any of this would be, given that hearing loss is treatable.
3. Explain the life-altering effects of untreated hearing loss
It is definitely worth sharing with your loved one that, as mentioned, untreated hearing loss can have a devastating impact on quality of life—including the increased risk of dementia, falls, depression, and more (all of which has been backed by research).
Simultaneously, you can assure them of the positive effects of treating hearing loss.
In one study, for example, adults who wore hearing aids reported a significant improvement in their quality of life. Recent research also uncovered that, for older adults at risk of cognitive decline, hearing aids were shown to reduce the risk by 48 percent.
Are falls a concern? Let your loved one know that hearing aids are linked to a lower risk of falls. Moreover, the latest hearing aids can actually increase their independence by detecting falls and alerting contacts of their choice.
4. Highlight that hearing aid stigma is in the past
If your loved one feels uneasy about wearing something on their ears for all to see, give them the good news: Today’s hearing aids are designed in styles that won’t cramp theirs—small, ergonomically comfortable, and discreet.
Just ask rock ‘n roll legend Huey Lewis, a proud hearing aid wearer who calls hearing aid stigma “old school”:
“Everybody used to worry about how they look (in hearing aids),” he said. “Nowadays, if you don't have two earbuds in your ear, you're not cool. I mean, look at all the kids today. They're all running around with the earbuds. If you don’t have something in your ear, you're not cool... I don’t care whether they do or not, but I guess, if you're worried about whether people see them or not, most people don’t.”
Perhaps it would help your loved one to think of hearing aids as “super high-tech earbuds”, with all the innovative ways they can now help wearers hear better—and simplify their lives. For instance, wearers today can receive phone calls plus stream music and other entertainment straight to their hearing aids.
5. Recommend they take a hearing test
Again, your loved one might not realize or be convinced they have hearing loss. As a starting point, you might encourage them to take a free online hearing test. Better yet, recommend they see a licensed hearing care professional for a more thorough test and ear examination.
6. Offer to accompany them to their hearing test
You can also show your loved one what to expect at their hearing test (found here) ahead of their appointment to help ease any anxiety they have. And why not help them feel more prepared and confident before their evaluation by learning more about hearing aids and hearing loss? Here is a good place to start.
Finally, don’t be surprised if your loved one is hesitant to seek help for their hearing loss. Be gentle and consistent. On average, hearing aid wearers wait four years to seek treatment. So, there’s a good chance your friend or family member is aware of their hearing problem, but just needs a little push of encouragement and support to treat it. That’s where you come in.
The sooner they get help and treat their hearing loss, the sooner they’ll begin to enjoy all the benefits of hearing their very best.
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