Hearing loss doesn’t just affect the person experiencing the loss; the disability can seriously impact others around that person including family, friends, and coworkers.
Hearing loss affects one’s safety and communication with others, leading to arguments, disagreements, and misunderstandings. A recent study found that of adults between the ages of 55 and 74 who have hearing loss to a degree that a hearing aid would benefit them, only 20 percent actually use one.
While deciding to use a hearing aid is a personal decision, the consequences are anything but limited to the individual in question.
Communication Becomes Difficult
While by far the most obvious, difficulty in communication can often become the biggest source of strife in relationships where one person experiences hearing loss. The person who has difficulty hearing becomes frustrated because they can’t understand their partner, and the other person may become exasperated from repeating themselves over and over and having to talk loudly. Misunderstandings arise and frustration can boil over to a breaking point.
Fortunately, we live in an age where email and texting are easily accessible and can aid communication with someone who is hard of hearing. However, some family members, especially older individuals, may not like this option because they prefer face-to-face communication.
During in-person conversations, however, a family member who has difficulty hearing may miss entire conversations, even if they’re sitting at the same table as their family members. If they attend an event such as a concert, loud restaurant, or party, a hard of hearing family member may be unable to understand or converse with anyone.
Often, family members that are hard of hearing miss so much of a conversation that they give up trying to keep up; this can ultimately lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression.
Catering to the needs of someone who is experiencing hearing loss can be stressful and difficult for family members, and even downright frustrating if the person in question refuses to seek treatment for their hearing loss.
None of the concerns involved with someone experiencing hearing loss is as pressing as their safety. People with normal hearing take for granted driving, walking, talking on the phone, and other everyday activities; however, for someone that is hard of hearing, these activities can be dangerous. They may have trouble hearing car horns, traffic, police, fire, or ambulance sirens, or someone approaching them from behind.
The uncertainty of how safe a person with hearing loss is can be a major source of stress for family members. Family members could become paranoid and overprotective of the person with hearing loss, especially when that person doesn’t hear the phone ringing and misses calls from family members checking in, increasing stress levels all around.
The Burden of Hearing Loss
The difficulty of communicating with a loved one who is experiencing hearing loss and the concern for their safety can have serious repercussions within a family. Some of the ways these repercussions can be manifested include:
- A negative change in the quality of conversations prior to the hearing loss
- More frequent arguments due to miscommunication or exhaustion
- A reduction in the ability to enjoy a certain lifestyle prior to the hearing loss
- Financial strain on the family, especially if the person with hearing loss can no longer work
- A growing resentment between family members
- Loneliness, depression, and even dementia may occur long-term
- The hearing impaired person may socially withdraw and drag their spouse with them
Marriages especially can be put under enormous strain, especially as the partner with normal hearing often becomes the caretaker of the partner that is hearing impaired. Conversation, particularly intimate and humorous conversation, may cease. Attending social gatherings will become less and less frequent as the hard of hearing partner can no longer take joy in them. At home, fights may often occur, such as over the volume of the TV.
For adults who experience hearing loss late in life, this change may be difficult to deal with. So much of our personality is centered around how we communicate with others: at work, at home, and in public we are always hearing things and responding. When a person can no longer hear, it can feel like they lose a large part of their personality, which may lead to depression and anxiety.
Agreeing On Treatment Options
Friends and family around a person who is hard of hearing may recognize that the person needs help much sooner than that person themselves recognize it. While some quickly recognize themselves and accept their need for a hearing aid, often you might encounter resistance. Some take a long time to accept their hearing loss and the fact they are now "old." Sadly, others never accept it.
For those arguing with a family member or loved one over a hearing aid, there are several talking points one can use to try to convince a person who is hard of hearing to get the help they need to improve their lives and the lives of everyone around them:
- Provide research to show that hearing aids have many benefits, including a reduction in the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, stronger relationships, and higher earning potential.
- Show them that today’s hearing aids are not like grandpa’s: they look much cooler, they’re smaller and streamline, and include cool features such as Bluetooth technology for streaming audio and connecting to a smartphone, fitness tracking, and even remote adjusting of the hearing aid.
- Help them see that while hearing aids are expensive, the potentially life-saving devices are more reasonably priced if you look at it from the perspective of cost per day of use. Simply divide the total cost of a pair of hearing aids by the number of days the hearing aid will be worn (they typically last five to seven years). They’re actually much cheaper than owning a car!
- The person experiencing the hearing loss might not even realize the extent to which those around them have to adapt to include that person, such as shouting, repeating things, or having the TV volume unreasonably loud. Try explaining this to the person or keep a journal of how often this occurs to show them.
- Be supportive by offering to see an audiologist with your family member that is experiencing hearing loss. Bringing other family members along might be even better, to take some of the pressure off of the person going through the examination. Let them know that they can test out a hearing aid before deciding to commit wearing one.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: