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Helping a family member with hearing loss

Hearing loss doesn’t just affect the person who has it. It also affects spouses, family members and friends.

If someone you care about is having trouble hearing, you may find yourself frustrated that they deny the problem or resist seeking treatment. You want to help – or may have tried unsuccessfully – but aren’t sure the best way to go about it.

The information below can help you get started. Your family doctor or hearing professional may also have suggestions. Try our Hearing Loss Simulator to help you understand and explore your family member’s hearing loss:

Hearing Loss Affects Family Members, Too

Most people with hearing loss wait five to seven years before seeking help. That’s a long time for you to deal with the ramifications of your spouse or parent’s hearing loss. It is normal to feel angry or resentful at times. You may be frustrated at having to repeat yourself, translate conversations, or raise your voice. You may miss the social engagements and activities that your spouse used to enjoy. You may not understand why he or she won’t seek help when the problem is obvious.

These feelings are very common, and it’s important to acknowledge them. But it’s also important to understand that the other person’s feelings are very different from yours.

Your family member simply may not be aware of the extent of the problem, because he or she literally does not hear what they are missing. When hearing loss develops gradually over a period of years, the hearing loss sufferer slowly forgets what normal hearing is like. Family members with normal hearing are acutely aware of all the missed interaction during the day, but the person suffering from hearing loss is not.

They also don’t realize how often you help them compensate for poor hearing. In other words, your helpful behaviors may actually prevent the hearing loss sufferer from realizing the extent of the problem.

Why Helping is Not Helpful
When a family member has hearing loss, our natural inclination is to help them out. In his book, “How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships: Motivating Your Loved One,” Dr. Richard Carmen says that typical helping behaviors such as repeating yourself, speaking loudly, and otherwise covering for someone with hearing loss can actually be counter-productive – and even allow denial to continue*.

Carmen suggests that you alert your family member each time you help them (for example, by saying, “Hearing Helper!”). Your goal is to make them aware of how often they need help, which in turn makes it harder to deny the problem.

The most loving thing you can do is to help your family member come to terms with their hearing loss, seek evaluation and treatment so they can fully participate in life again.

Starting the Conversation

  • No matter how you feel about the subject, your approach must be one of compassion and love. Try to stay calm and objective.
  • Respect that your family member may not be ready to accept their hearing loss. Sometimes the conversation must take place in small steps over a longer period of time.
  • You may want to document the hearing loss behaviors you observe in your family member (and in yourself as helper). It may be helpful to give it to him or her at the beginning of your discussion.
  • Rather than focus on the frustration you feel, it may be more productive to share the impact hearing loss is having on your relationship – missed opportunities for conversation, connection and shared experiences.

*Carmen, R. (2005). How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships: Motivating Your Loved One. Sedona: Auricle Ink Publishers.