My name is Kaila Williams and I am Dr. Bary’s youngest daughter. My father was born with hearing loss. This means that his hearing loss has been present all of my life. Most days, he’s wearing his new hearing aids and he does really well. The Siemens Binax hearing aid is amazing in its progressive functionality. But hearing aids were not always as advanced as they are now, and for a lot of my life, my father struggled to communicate with my sister and I.
My father has three major ways of coping with his hearing loss when he doesn’t have his hearing aids in: staying silent, pretending he heard, or talking over people. My dad especially likes to do what I call the “nod and smile” when he doesn’t hear. It embarrasses him to continually ask people to repeat themselves so his canned response is amiable agreement – hoping they didn’t ask him for an actual opinion. When he’s in a situation where he’s straining to hear, he’s either silent or he just talks over everyone. If he’s talking, of course, no one is trying to speak to him or ask his opinion.
If your loved one has hearing loss, you probably recognize these behaviors. I personally get really frustrated when my father talks over me. We work together, so it can be a huge problem in the office if he’s not wearing his hearing aids. He’s either not able to listen to my needs (hence the talking over me), or I have to stop everything and really focus on communication.
Occasionally, I lose my patience and just shout at him. It’s amazing how quickly raising my voice at him brings on stress responses that mimic when I’m really angry. My temperature rises and I feel as if we are arguing. I’ll be shouting “I need your latest blog post” but if feels like I’m saying “I am really angry at you.” (Yelling is really the worst way to communicate with a hard of hearing person. I only do it when I’m being really lazy – and that is a terrible excuse. Don’t do it.)
My dad is a pretty good guy. And he wears his hearing aids at least 90% of the time, but our relationship really suffers that 10% that he walks around without them. If you have a loved one with hearing loss, you know the frustrations it introduces into your communication.
After years of coping, here is my fool proof 10 point guide on coping with a loved one with hearing loss.
- DON’T ENABLE THEM: If your loved one has hearing aids, you can’t force them to wear them. You can only control you. However, if they choose not to wear their hearing aids, you can refuse to repeat yourself. I regularly do this with my father. By repeating yourself or raising your voice, you are introducing more stress into the relationship than is necessary. These days, I give my father a look and he goes and gets his hearing aids right away – he knows we won’t get anything done if they aren’t in. If they don’t have hearing aids, and you want them to get their hearing checked, this tough love approach is a good way to finally convince them they have to do something.
- MAKE SURE THEY ARE COMFORTABLE: If your loved one is refusing to wear their hearing aids, they may need them adjusted to become more comfortable.Or, they may need a new pair or a different style. Comfort is key in wearing hearing aids for long periods of time over a day.
- MAKE SURE THEY GET ADJUSTED REGULARLY: Adriatica Audiology patients come into our office at least every 3-4 months to get their hearing aids adjusted and cleaned. This is incredibly important for maintaining comfort and making sure the hearing aids are working well in all situations. If your loved one moved or is unable to visit their original doctor for any reason, most audiologists offer service packages for patients who did not purchase their original hearing aids from them. Find one close to home, that can be visited regularly.
- FACE THEM WHEN YOU ARE SPEAKING: Even with hearing aids, my father can have difficulty hearing me if my back is turned to him. The best way to communicate clearly is to face one another.
- SLOW DOWN AND ENUNCIATE: If you’re anything like me, you speak more quickly than your parents’ generation. My grandparents and parents regularly accuse me of speaking too quickly for them to understand. They also occasionally accuse me of mumbling. Both of these are terrible habits that I’ve worked on breaking. When you are speaking with a hard of hearing person, be sure and slow down, deepen your voice, and enunciate clearly. This can be much more effective (and less stressful!) than shouting.
- DO NOT SHOUT: Seriously. Don’t shout. It will leave both of you feeling agitated and unhappy, even if you were communicating about something completely benign. Slow down, lower your voice, and enunciate. It works 10x better than shouting. Most people don’t lose volume as quickly as they lose clarity and understanding in their hearing.
- DO NOT LOSE YOUR PATIENCE: When you lose your patience or show frustration, it adds to their embarrassment and feeling of inadequacy. Your loved one is probably very self conscious of their hearing loss and they will be less likely to acknowledge whether or not they’re hearing or missing if you are agitated. If they begin to worry you will get agitated if they miss words, they will stop communicating as well and become apathetic to their hearing rehabilitation.
- DO NOT ACCUSE THEM OF “SELECTIVE HEARING”: This is not a thing. Yes, they can hear certain things/people better than others. This is because hearing loss occurs at different rates in different sound frequencies. The higher the voice, the more likely they will not be able to understand it (for most losses as higher frequency sounds are typically lost first). If you don’t believe us – come into Adriatica and we’ll map your speech pattern and frequency in relation to their hearing loss. We’ve saved our fair share of marriages by doing this and proving that one partner is not ignoring the other on purpose.
- TAKE 8: If you are having difficulty communicating with your loved one and get frustrated, completely change what you are doing for 8 minutes. 8 minutes is how long it takes for an emotion to pass. Remember, they aren’t doing this on purpose.
- APPRECIATE THEIR EFFORTS: Hearing loss can be corrected, but it can take a fair bit of work from your loved one. It takes open communication on their part and they have to acknowledge they have a problem. Tell them how much you appreciate being able to communicate with them and how much enjoyment you get having them fully present in your life.
Above all else, remember that your support and appreciation is key in your loved one’s hearing rehabilitation journey. We’ve seen loved ones be reunited after getting hearing aids even though they were living together. For a great example, just check out Patricia T.’s amazing testimonial with her daughter and granddaughter’s perspective.
Life is too short to live with hearing loss and the stress it brings.