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How to tell if your loved one has hearing loss

Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is common and natural. However, due to stigma, cost and various other reasons, many people delay getting their hearing checked. Oftentimes, a loved one must notice a problem and initiate a conversation to start the sometimes long process of prompting an individual to get his or her hearing checked.

In fact, according to a 2009 survey by Applied Research, which was commissioned by Siemens Hearing Instruments, Inc., many older Americans are in denial about their hearing loss. Of 250 adults between the ages of 50 and 75, 72 percent said that their hearing was average or better. The majority of them reported not using nor considering the use of assistive listening devices, hearing aids and other hearing technology. However, 70 percent of children surveyed reported prodding their fathers to get their hearing checked, while 64 percent said they had encouraged their mothers to have their hearing tested.

hearing loss, hearing loss treatmentWhat accounts for this discrepancy in perspective? Sure, part of it could be that, relative to others, many older adults realize they have hearing loss but don't think it's that bad. But much of it is likely due to denial, which is part of the grieving process for many people coming to grips with their hearing loss.

Top 3 excuses

Maybe you've shared your concerns with your loved one about his or her hearing loss or have brought the topic up a few times in certain situations, but your loved one has brushed you off with the wave of a hand. If so, then you have probably heard one of the following excuses before, and if not, then here are the top five excuses people use to deny hearing loss or deflect concerns about them:

"I didn't hear because you were/everyone was mumbling."

In fact, for people who have hearing loss, others' speech often does sound like mumbling! They may not be able to tell that they are only perceiving muffled speech sounds due to their hearing loss, not others' refusal to speak up or clearly.

However, blaming others for mumbling is also an example of projection and is something that people who are in denial or grieving about their hearing loss might say.

Just in case you are mumbling, which will surely be challenging for your loved one with hearing loss, you can resolve to speak at a normal pace and more clearly, and check in frequently to make sure your loved one has heard correctly.

"Of course I can't hear - it's very loud in here!"

Someone might say this in exasperation, especially if you point out his or her hearing loss during a moment of frustration in a not-so-kind way. You should know that for people with hearing loss, it is even more difficult to hear with background noise, even if it's minimal.

You can help out by moving to a quieter space for conversation, and making sure to face your loved one and keep your mouth uncovered to facilitate lip reading, which many people use without even knowing it.

"I can hear everything I want to, so that's good enough."

This is a defense mechanism, often said when the person realizes that he or she is missing out on certain sounds. Still, it's part of the denial process that many people go through before being ready to seek treatment for their hearing loss.

You can help by supporting your loved one and, when the time is right, gently pointing out some wonderful sounds he or she might be missing, like birds chirping or questions from his or her grandchild.

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss

If you think a loved one has hearing loss, below are some signs and symptoms to help you decide. Using a list of symptoms or an online, at-home hearing loss checklist can be a good way to help your loved one discover and address his or her hearing loss and to help that person seek official testing and treatment. Just make sure to choose the right time - for example, don't shove it in his or her face during a time of frustration, but instead, plan a day to sit and talk together about your concerns in a loving way. Below are common signs and symptoms of hearing loss for your reference.

Does your loved one:

  • Turn the TV up to a volume that is uncomfortable for others or complain that he or she can't hear the TV?
  • Seem to have the most trouble hearing women's or children's voices?
  • Complain that his or her ears are ringing?
  • Frequently ask you or others to repeat what was said?
  • Sometimes answer inappropriately to questions, as if he or she is answering a completely different question?
  • Complain that people are mumbling or their voices sound muffled?
  • Have an especially difficult time following a conversation when there is more than one communication partner?
  • Miss the doorbell or phone ringing?
  • Have a difficult time conversing with others on the phone?
  • Completely miss what you say or not even realize you are talking when one of your back's is turned toward the other?
  • Become annoyed because he or she can't understand what other people are saying?
  • Feel more drained or stressed out than normal after attending social situations?
  • Withdraw from social situations because he or she is having trouble hearing?
  • Feel nervous about meeting other people, when before this wasn't an issue?
  • Remain quiet in social situations - presumably out of fear of misunderstanding what others are saying and responding inappropriately - when this is not his or her normal disposition?
  • Have difficulty hearing in public spaces like restaurants?

Your loved one might also have some medical explanations that could make him or her more likely to have hearing loss. These include:

  • Having a family history of hearing loss.
  • Taking medications that are known to be ototoxic - that is, damaging to his or her hearing. These include everything from aspirin to drugs for chemotherapy.
  • Being exposed to very loud sounds or loud noise over a prolonged period, including in a work situation, which may indicate noise-induced hearing loss.
  • Having diabetes or heart, thyroid or circulation problems.

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