Talking to Your Parent About Their Hearing Isn’t Easy – Take Advice From ENT Specialists
Though aging is an inevitable and universal part of life, the changes to our body are not always easy to accept right away — especially when an age-related change impacts everyday routines and relationships with loved ones. For adult children, that sometimes means a reversal of parent-child roles and having to bring up delicate subjects, like hearing impairment.
“When an individual has a hearing impairment, it changes the way he or she hears everyday conversations, which can lead to frustration for both the individual and others in their life,” said Dr. Steven J. Hamlett, who heads the Audiology department for ENT Specialists of Abilene. “No one wants to have difficulties in communication, and most people are reluctant to seek help.”
When approaching the subject of hearing impairment with a parent or loved one, he or she may feel embarrassed or reluctant to talk about it, as health and well-being are personal topics. It is common for an individual to offer an excuse for their hearing difficulties as defense mechanism, said Dr. Hamlett. Common responses include: “Everyone is just mumbling,” “I hear everything I need to hear” or “They just need to speak up.” However, he cautions that accepting these answers and not continuing the conversation “can hinder an individual from taking responsibility for a deficit that can often be improved.”
If you’re looking for help about how to talk to your parent about their hearing, Dr. Hamlett said you first need to understand how hearing loss affects communication — then how to talk to loved ones about seeking help before it’s too late.
To maintain your relationship with your loved one and ensure he or she can continue to live a rich, full life, it’s important to have this potentially uncomfortable conversation.
Hearing Loss and Communication
If your loved one shares that people sound like they are mumbling or not enunciating properly, or if they have difficulty hearing in the presence of background noise (such as in a crowded restaurant), these can be signs of a high-frequency hearing loss, said Dr. Hamlett. High-frequency hearing loss is one of the most common types of hearing loss and can be a result of noise exposure throughout one’s lifetime or the normal aging process. Many of the consonant sounds within the English language tend to contain higher pitches, and it is these consonants that help us identify differences in words and provide clarity of speech when we have full hearing capabilities.
“When an individual has a high-frequency hearing loss, some of these consonant sounds get filtered out, which causes speech to become unclear,” said Dr. Hamlett. “Your parent may report a more ‘mumbled’ sound quality. Likewise, if speech is unable to be heard clearly, the brain can have more difficulties processing a difference between what is speech and what is noise in difficult listening environments.”
Your loved one may have trouble following the conversation when your extended family is all gathered around the dinner table, or he or she might not like going out to crowded, noisy environments. To maintain your relationship with your loved one and ensure he or she can continue to live a rich, full life, it’s important to have this potentially uncomfortable conversation.
How to Help Your Loved Ones with Hearing Loss
While talking to a loved one about any potential health issue is challenging, broaching the subject of hearing loss may be especially difficult, due to the negative stigma or correlation it has with aging. However, Dr. Hamlett has advice for handling the situation with compassion and empathy to help ensure a favorable outcome for both of you.
“When talking to a loved one about the possibility of a hearing loss, it is important to focus on how the loss may be taking away from his or her quality of life,” he said. “Instead of using blame statements like ‘you can’t hear’ or ‘you need a hearing aid,’ try to focus on the possibility of improvement.”
Dr. Hamlett suggests choosing your words carefully, with statements such as “I feel you could be hearing better than you currently are” or “I want you to be more comfortable engaging in conversations” to help start productive conversation rather than creating tension or resentment. And don’t push, he said, as it can have the opposite effect you’re trying to achieve. “It is very important to make sure an individual is ready and willing to seek help before setting an appointment with an audiologist,” Dr. Hamlett said. “If a patient ever feels he or she has been forced to seek help, outcomes can be limited and help may be rejected for an extended period of time.”
If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication and are ready to talk about options for improving your hearing, call ENT Audiology Center at 325-437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation.
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