How to Talk to Your Parents About Getting Hearing Aids
When retired high-school principal and veteran Tim Price experienced hearing loss over a decade ago, it came on so gradually that he didn’t notice it. But his family did. He dismissed their requests to get his hearing tested, and the issue impacted his personal relationships. Price said people would talk to him less because they were tired of him “continually saying ‘What did you say? Could you repeat that? What was that?’”
Convincing your parents to investigate their hearing problems can be difficult, especially given the stigma of getting older.
Eventually, around four years ago, Price decided to get hearing aids. This delay in accepting age-related hearing loss and seeking help is not uncommon.
“Once an individual recognizes that they have a hearing impairment, there is certainly a lot of hesitation in going down the path and embarking on the journey of getting hearing aids,” Dr. Archelle Georgiou, the Chief Health Officer of Starkey Hearing, told Hearing Tracker. “There's still a significant stigma attached, a lot of it is related to ageism and discrimination.”
Once an individual recognizes that they have a hearing impairment, there is certainly a lot of hesitation in going down the path and embarking on the journey of getting hearing aids.Dr. Archelle Georgiou - Starkey Hearing
Convincing your parents to investigate their hearing problems can be difficult, especially given the stigma of getting older. But it’s vital because, as Dr. Georgiou noted, untreated hearing loss can “this domino effect that triggers changes in everything from your blood pressure and heart rate to your personality.”
Here are five ways to smooth the path and help your parents communicate more easily:
1. Give the whole clan context
It’s important to recognize that one person’s hearing loss has wide-ranging ramifications. “If anybody in the family has a hearing loss, your entire family has a hearing problem,” Bill Hodgetts, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Alberta, told Hearing Tracker. “It's not that you can put it in a bin and say, ‘Dad's struggling, let's just go get him a hearing aid, and everything will be fine.’”
He speaks from personal as well as professional experience. When his grandmother had hearing issues, Dr. Hodgetts found himself having to explain to his own family that they needed to be involved in improving communication with her. “I don't just fix Grandma. I'm trying to fix the entire problem which is communication. Not just whether she can hear certain sounds, but she also has to be able to communicate,” he explained. Some of these steps to improve communication can include looking directly at someone when you are talking to them and trying to limit background noise.
2. Emphasize the impact on family ties
Problems with communication stemming from untreated hearing loss can also lead to loneliness, which Price himself experienced. To avoid this, try advice from Dr. Georgiou: When approaching her mother about hearing loss, she brought up how her untreated hearing loss affected her mother’s relationship with other family members. “My children were calling her less because they couldn't communicate as easily with their grandmother, and so I quantified this for my mom – the decrease in [the] frequency of the communication,” she said. Knowing that effect can be a motivating factor.
3. Don’t sugarcoat the situation
If your parent or another older adult you know is experiencing hearing loss, highlighting the negative can actually lead to a positive action. In a 2017 study published in The Canadian Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, Dr. Hodgetts and his colleagues found that people are 20 percent more likely to seek hearing services when they are presented with messaging that makes them feel left out rather than included. For example, someone may be more willing to get hearing aids after being told, “Your family talks to you less” rather than “Your family wants to talk to you more.” In other words, emphasizing the positive may be nice but not effective!
Age may play a factor in whether an individual responds better to inclusive or exclusive messaging. While researching how college students responded to different messaging about hearing loss, Dr. Hodgetts found that college students are more responsive to the inclusive variety. “Reasons for exclusive versus inclusive are beyond the realm of just hearing loss,” said Dr. Hodgetts. “I think we could all agree that you probably do need to communicate differently with your grandparents than you do with 20-year-olds.”
4. Pump up your parents’ participation
Encourage your parents to get involved in an interactive way, rather than just lecturing them about what they ought to be doing. Dr. Georgiou convinced her mother to take an online hearing test by taking it with her. “That provided objective evidence that she did indeed have hearing loss, and I think that's the moment that she took it seriously,” Dr. Georgiou said.
5. Keep them company
Another good way to forge a partnership: Dr. Georgiou recommends that children go with their parents to audiology appointments, which may feel intimidating. “Get a formal audiologic evaluation and make the decision that's right for your loved one. Then celebrate it,” is her advice. She also suggests that sharing your own observations on your parent’s hearing loss could help paint a clearer picture for the audiologist.
The results of these interventions are likely to open new avenues to communication – and your parent may even become the family spokesperson for hearing aids. Price, for instance, has proudly shared his hearing aids’ high-tech features, like direct streaming of podcasts and music, with relatives. “Not only could I hear better, but I had this really cool new technology, all for me,” Price said. Exactly the kind of payoff you hope for when encouraging the older generation to explore how well they are hearing.