Showing empathy to a close relative diagnosed with hearing loss

August 13, 2015 by Stéphanie Poirier
La perte auditive chez un proche
Hearing loss is a taboo subject. According to our collective beliefs, hearing aids are synonymous with old age, loss of autonomy and even disability. Why do people wear glasses without feeling “old”, when glasses are (visual) aids just the same?  That being said, this can be a delicate matter for some people —whether they are aware of their hearing loss or not. As such, their relatives’ opinion often makes a great difference in the way they will deal with their hearing loss.  

When they first learn that they have a hearing loss, many patients go into denial. They might need some time getting used to the idea, and it is crucial for them to feel comfortable enough to talk confidently about it with their relatives.

First of all, the person must learn to live with this new reality, while close relatives must change their ways of communicating. For instance, they must learn to draw their loved one’s attention first before talking to them (by getting closer, naming or touching them), speaking slowly and clearly and making sure to be in the same room when they speak. Eliminating surrounding noises like TV and radio, and avoiding hiding one’s mouth with the hand or a scarf for instance, are other good habits to adopt.  

The best approach for supporting a person with a hearing loss

The special bond that you share with the hard of hearing person can impact the steps he or she will choose to take. You can raise the subject by quoting actual moments from day-to-day life when they struggled to understand their conversation partner. For instance: “Mom, last night at dinner, I have noticed that you asked people to repeat many times and that you ended up shutting off from the discussion.” In their daily life, people with hearing impairment often get asked to turn down the volume of the TV, or they get criticized for not understanding the other person speaking to them. Oftentimes in denial, they will argue to their spouse that they can’t help it if s/he has “super ears” or that s/he is the one not speaking loudly enough. This stage is part of the acceptation process and is completely normal.

How to make hearing loss easier to accept?

To help a hard of hearing person through their journey towards acceptance, talk to them about it and make them feel that you understand. Ask them if they have noted some situations when they do not hear well, or experience difficulties related to their impairment. Help them get more knowledgeable by suggesting readings or documentaries about hearing health. Offering to accompany them to a hearing health professional to learn about the various stages of management can be of great help too. Indeed, a contact with a professional could half-open a door to acceptance, considering that their fear of the unknown could create a mental block.

The role of hearing aids

One thing is for sure: waiting to remedy the situation will only make it worse. Some people with hearing loss stay home all the time, they isolate themselves, experience a lot of anger towards themselves and end up giving up on their social life. After their hearing aid fitting thought, all the patients say: “If only I knew, I would have come much earlier!” See? There is no good reason to wait!

Hearing aids restore the necessary volume to hear sounds and understand words according to the remaining level of discrimination. Hearing aids should be worn at the first signs of hearing loss in order to foster the process of adapting to the hearing amplification.

Speech intelligibility is the capacity to understand words. For instance, if the intelligibility percentage of a person is 20%, this means that he or she can understand two words out of ten correctly. Sound discrimination, on the other hand, is a person’s skill to differentiate the sound of similar sounding consonants like M N, P-B, T-D or S-Z (home/hone, pear/bear, tuck/duck, loose/lose).

If you suspect you or one of your relatives may be experiencing hearing loss, consult an audiologist.