How to be part of the conversation about hearing loss
Hearing loss is one of the most common health issues in the United States, with 48 million people experiencing it to some degree; yet most people are reluctant to talk about it. The difficulty of starting the conversation about hearing loss prevents people from seeking treatment, and leads to frustration, sadness and isolation. But what is the solution? When it comes to hearing loss, being part of the conversation is more important than ever; science is discovering how intricately connected hearing loss and brain atrophy are connected, meaning that hearing health is vital to enjoying sharp and cognizant golden years.
You probably wouldn't be embarrassed to admit you need glasses, so why be embarrassed to admit you need hearing help? It’s a common health problem, yet people are still embarrassed when they have it, feeling that hearing loss a sign of weakness or old age. Many don’t want to admit it, and on average, a person takes seven years to seek treatment once they realize they have a hearing problem...and that’s if they seek treatment; in the end, only 25 percent of people with hearing loss actually get hearing aids.
It's time to erase the stigma and increase the awareness by joining the conversation.
The best way to start a conversation with a loved one about their hearing loss is to approach with kindness, patience and understanding. Hearing loss is not just a physical change; it's an emotional one as well. Remember he may be feeling frustrated, angry, sad or isolated, and may also be grieving the loss of hearing and life as he used to know it; denial is also a common emotion he may be working through. It is important not to judge as you approach your conversation; you want to enter with full support. Taking your loved one’s feelings and emotions into account is vital before starting a conversation about their hearing loss.
One way to start the conversation is to approach it from the standpoint of what your loved one can do for you and others; in other words, empower them to help you. Saying something like, “I miss our conversations," or “I feel frustrated when you don’t hear me and I have to repeat myself” makes a person feel like they are more in control of the situation, instead of putting them on the defensive.
Fear can certainly be a factor in preventing conversation about hearing loss, whether it’s your fear your loved one will become angry or embarrassed, or your loved one’s fear that revealing their hearing loss will make them seem old or infirm. Focus on the positive impacts of treating hearing loss, such as better emotional health, increased job productivity and better physical health; information and knowledge can go a long way toward alleviating fears. You can also open the door to a conversation about a loved one’s hearing loss by introducing stories of other people’s success with hearing aids, or by introducing them to a person with hearing aids who has had a positive experience.
If you are the one experiencing hearing loss, you can be the one to initiate the conversation, too! If you don’t have the conversation with your loved ones, how will they know how to help you? Be sure to speak up, whether at home, at work or in educational settings. Be your own advocate and ask for help if you need it, and be proactive by letting teachers or bosses know what you need and how they can help.
Being open and honest with those around you can go a long way toward erasing the stereotypes and stigma that often accompanies hearing loss. It is okay to offer tips to people to help you hear better; most people welcome the opportunity to be helpful. For example, is one ear better than the other? Would it help if people faced you to talk? Are conversational cues, such as speaking your name first, helpful? You can always ask the person you are speaking with to step into a quieter environment, and let them know why.
"Once I started talking about my hearing loss, people were not only understanding but relieved," said Katherine Bouton, a former editor at The New York Times, who is profoundly deaf in one ear and has significant hearing loss in the other ear. She also found that people were eager to help once she revealed her hearing loss.
Help remove the stigma of hearing loss by being honest with those around you, and don’t be embarrassed to let people know you have hearing loss and need something repeated. "If you don't hear something, just say, 'Sorry, I didn't hear that.' If you still don't hear it, say cheerfully and politely, 'Sorry, I'm really pretty hard of hearing. I still didn't get it," Bouton says. "A laugh helps. A little self-deprecation helps, and so does forgiveness for the poor soul who happened into a conversation with someone who can't hear."
Hearing loss has a detrimental effect on many people’s lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Just talking about it and getting it out into the open can go a long way toward removing the negative association and encouraging people to seek treatment. How will you be part of the conversation?