If there’s someone in your life that is dealing with hearing loss, it can be difficult to know how to start the conversation.
In most cases, you likely already can identify that they have hearing loss. You already know there's a problem and if you’re on this blog, you already know what the potential solutions are.
In this post, we will walk you through how to approach this topic in a thoughtful, considerate way that leads to a conversation rather than an argument.
Make observations not accusations
Bringing up the topic of hearing loss can be the first major obstacle. The best way to do this isn’t to be direct and say things like “you need a hearing aid”. Rather, approach it from a place of compassion and curiosity.
Ask questions of your friend or family member when you notice if they’re struggling to participate in conversations or having trouble hearing whether there’s background noise or not.
This might mean saying things like “I’ve noticed you’ve withdrawn a bit lately and haven’t been going out with your friends as much. Is everything okay?” or “I’ve noticed you miss parts of conversations more often lately. How are you?”
Compassion and listening
The reason that these conversations can be difficult is because hearing loss is about more than just that. This topic is wrapped up in a lot of other complex emotions. It's not just about hearing loss--it's also touching on other ideas like aging and feelings around getting older.
As Oren Jay Sofer writes in his book, Say What You Mean, “when we come from curiosity and care, we’re willing and able to listen. We’re opening a conduit that allows connection and understanding to happen.” If you start with that frame of mind, it is much more likely you’ll have a productive conversation.
Focus on feelings, not fault
Hearing loss can make one feel very isolated from those around us or left out. As we’ve discussed before on this blog, one of the major side-effects of hearing loss is withdrawing socially which can have negative cognitive effects. Current research has found that “hearing loss is associated with loneliness and social isolation have important implications for the cognitive and psychosocial health of older adults.”
When talking about hearing loss with your friend or family member, be sure to make it clear that you’re there to help them.
Like any difficult conversation, avoid any sentences that start with “you always” or “you never”. These sorts of statements can make the other person feel like they’ve done something wrong and put them on the defensive which can shut down any chances of communicating.
What's most helpful in most cases is identifying what's important to the person (communication, social events, etc) and helping them understand what they might be missing because of their hearing loss.
Expect it to take time
If you or someone you know is struggling with hearing loss, the best time way to start is to simply start the conversation but keep in mind: things may not change overnight.
In fact, it’s very unlikely they will. “Given the complexity of communication,” Sofer writes, “transformation occurs most readily through small shifts sustained over time.” You should not try to force the decision upon them.
In the end, the single most effective way to get a family member or friend started on their hearing care journey is just starting and approaching the conversation with empathy, understanding, and conversations.
A lot of times, people want to deny they have hearing loss because they think they can hide it.
"Hearing loss may be invisible,” says Vibe Hearing audiologist Annie Duchen, AuD, CCC-A “but there are things that we do to compensate that make it clear whether you have a hearing aid on or not." These behaviors include things like leaning in, asking for repetition and having unexpected reactions to what’s being said (eg. laughing at something you thought was a joke).
For more tips on how to be an ally to someone with hearing loss, check out our blog post on the topic.