Having to visit a medical professional about a physical issue is never something we look forward to doing, especially if we fear one of our senses is diminishing as we age. Sometimes it may be difficult for your loved one to act on a hearing loss, even if you’ve noticed their quality of life has diminished due to not being able to hear. Recently, my friend had concerns about her inability to understand speech, which added frustration and exhaustion to her daily activities. She had been wearing hearing aids for eight years after a routine medical examination at her military base detected a moderate hearing loss. Although no longer a novice at wearing hearing aids or visiting the audiologist, going to discuss her hearing loss and acknowledging possible further degradation of hearing has been a scary and emotional event. I started accompanying her in 2018 after learning about the importance of support during audiologist visits. I hope the following tips I picked up along the way will assist others in being a supportive companion to someone who needs hearing help:
The first step is always the hardest, especially if your loved one has not yet addressed their hearing loss but has acknowledged that they may need help. Not knowing what to expect or feeling embarrassed about a possible health issue may cause the person with hearing loss to put off a trip to the hearing health professional. Sit down with your loved one in a private, quiet setting, and talk about what they may be experiencing and how their hearing has been affecting them recently. If you have noticed a change in their hearing, bring up some examples in a kind way, acknowledging that you want them to remain fully engaged in the things that they love. Ask what their feelings are about visiting a professional, acknowledging any reservations they may have.
After listening to your loved one, suggest that you both spend some time looking at new innovations in hearing technology. One of the top reasons that people don’t act on their hearing loss or adopt hearing aids is because of the stigma associated with wearing those big, squealy plastic stoppers in your ears that you remember your parents or grandparents wearing. However, in 2021, their idea of hearing aids may be far from reality.
Today, hearing aids are equipped with incredibly sophisticated computer chips located in tiny casings that fit within or behind your ear. It’s likely that there are already people in your life who wear hearing aids and you have no idea! By reading about the newest technology, you and your loved one can become educated on how the technology works and what features your loved one may like to try. Hearing aids now come equipped with Bluetooth to stream audio from your phone directly to your ears and other fun possibilities like a tracker to count your steps, a variety of colors to match hair (or personality!), rechargeable capabilities, and a variety of settings to assist the wearer in hearing their best no matter where they may be.
Once your loved one is ready to explore the next step, spend some time looking at local hearing health professionals online. Once you find an accessible professional, review their website and ratings online to see if this would be a good fit for the person with hearing loss. If you have questions, call the hearing health professionals office to ask as many questions as needed to ensure your loved one is prepared for a possible visit.
After learning that my friend’s last audiologist retired, we spent many evenings reading reviews and calling other offices to ask about the variety of technology they dispense, ask about the features that my friend would or would not like in her new hearing aids, and talk about the specific needs of my friend who works in an environment that does not permit Bluetooth. We were met with extreme kindness from all offices, but chose her new audiologist based on a trusted recommendation, her experience with a variety of hearing aid manufacturers, and her proximity to my friend’s workplace in case of emergencies.
This may be one of the most unique suggestions on how to spend a day with your loved one, but may be the most influential in getting your loved one to act on hearing loss. I learned this helpful idea after my parents came to visit last fall, and we attended the Walk4Hearing to support our partner organization, the Hearing Loss Association of America. During the event, participants had a chance to get their hearing tested in a sound booth by a professional. My family had been trying to get my dad to have his hearing tested for years after a life full of concerts and guitar playing, but he had not yet acted. My mom offered to get her hearing tested with him, and they both had a great experience talking to the professionals and getting a very quick and painless test. As suspected, my dad’s results showed moderate to severe hearing loss that he is now speaking with his local audiologist about. In turn, he will also soon meet his audiologist and bring my grandmother along who needs her hearing addressed so they can begin this new chapter of hearing together – and each other! Even if you don’t suspect that you have hearing loss, it’s a good practice to have your hearing tested to understand your baseline hearing levels.
Be sure to not force your loved one into acting quicker than they feel comfortable, but do remind them that treating hearing loss can reduce their risk of dementia, falls, lengthier hospitalization stays, depression and loneliness. If your loved one decides he or she is ready to take action, continue following us for Part 2 of this series next week where I will provide tips on what to expect once at the hearing health professional’s office.