Written by Julia Stepp
Who is responsible for communication when hearing loss is part of your family dynamics? The person with the hearing loss, right?
Let me ask you; as the hearing partner are you saying any of the following:
- You are purposely ignoring me.
- Turn that damn TV down!
- Why are you yelling at me?
- What do you mean the phone isn’t working right? I hear fine.
- Are you serious? Do you really think I said that?
- What do you mean you don’t want to go out with our friends on Friday nights?
- I think you need to see the doctor, something is not right with you mentally.
- Is it just hearing loss? Oh no biggie then. We’ll just get some hearing aids. Just stick’em on and good to go.
- We just spent $8000 on hearing aids, what do you mean you still can’t hear me?
One that has stuck with me over the years during Hard of Hearing workshops: Your hearing loss is now our life.
Hearing loss affects every family member, especially when it comes to communication. Communication is the key to staying connected. There are many tools that can help you stay connected. Most families don’t find these tools until the connection is a struggle and everyone is beyond frustrated.. My hope is that this finds folks before the connection is damaged.
Some simple things that every hearing partner/family member can do:
- Get involved from the beginning. There will be a period of time my friend Sue refers to as the “I’m not there yet” statement. When they’re not there yet, you can still work staying connected.
- Stop talking from another room. This is good practice for everywhere, including your job, if you’ve gone back to the office.
- Stop talking with food in your mouth. Ew. Just. Ew.
- Make sure you’re facing them. This helps them use body language to fit with what is being said. It also helps you to see their facial expressions to make sure they understand what you are saying.
The more important the conversation the better the outcome will be if you can follow these simple rules.
The list above is good practice to use with everyone, not just those with hearing loss. You can practice it over and over everywhere you go because one in five people you meet will have a hearing loss. Plus, practicing everywhere you go makes it a habit.
There is evidence that shows getting hearing aids from the onset of a hearing loss have better outcomes. BUT making someone get hearing aids so they can hear YOU will not work as well as you’d like unless you change some communication habits. You will be disappointed. When you are both ready for hearing aids, be involved. Keep the connection:
- Go to the Audiologist with your partner. Learn what hearing aids can and cannot do. Help keep a diary of sounds and what your partner would like to hear.
- Find out why T-coils are important. Find out where loops have been installed to use with T-coils.
- Learn how assistive listening devices work. We all love our bluetooth, right? There are ways to use your Bluetooth with personal devices. There’s also FM systems and WiFi assistive listening options. Look for the Assistive Listening Device (ALD) symbol in venues.
- Learn more about caption options. Apps on phones and computers, television, landlines phones, and public venues, office meetings.
- Loops, ALDs and captions can all be used even before the person is ready for hearing aids.
- If certain environments are no longer doable, keep a list and brainstorm ideas on how to make it work. If Friday night is date night with friends and your local hangout is too loud, start looking for a new hang out. And if that Friday night date night is a quiet home dinner for two. That’s okay too.
And something I cannot stress enough. JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP. Support groups for hearing loss allow the person with hearing loss to connect to others with shared experience. Support groups are where hearing partners can learn how to better support hearing loss too. Don’t let the hearing loss be your life. Live life better with hearing loss.
Another important list that has helped my family is to know signs of hearing loss.
- Repeating questions you have answered (them making sure they heard right)
- “What?” A lot of whats or huhs or say that again.
- TV is becoming louder and louder.
- Trouble hearing on a phone.
- Not answering questions you ask, or answering incorrectly.
I watched my grandma’s friends and family misdiagnose her as being “senile” or showing signs of “dementia.” It was during a class provided at an HLAA chapter meeting on how to recognize symptoms of dementia that helped me realize that grandma did not have dementia. She needed her hearing evaluated and more life skills to help her participate in all her extra-curricular activities
Even though I knew better, five years later I misdiagnosed dementia vs hearing loss in my own spouse. (BTW, he’s not there yet. My husband may never “be there.”) He has a mild hearing loss and still lives a full life at 73. We have practiced communication skills well over 20 years. This is thanks to the fact that I work with and have many friends with hearing loss. No one is perfect and we all slip up. Daily. However, we own it when we don’t follow the rules and move on. Usually.
Keep connected. Don’t let communication with hearing loss manage your life. Manage the hearing loss instead. Learn, grow and most of all LIVE your life.
PS: JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP! Find out why with us.
If you liked this post, try Hearing Small Voices because kids are hard to hearing. Also we wrote early on about Hearing Loss: Family and Communication.
(No companion podcast.)