What to do when someone ignores their hearing loss

According to The Hearing Association of America the number of people in the USA with a hearing problem is about 48 million – that means that one in five people have some level of hearing loss. Despite such large numbers there is still a lot of stigma attached to hearing loss and many sufferers do not seek help.

My own hearing loss was first diagnosed when I was 5 years old, I’m now 38. What started as a minor hearing problem has gradually got worse over the years and my loss is now classed as severe, which means I am unable to hear much without my hearing aids, I certainly can’t hear what someone is saying without them.

Wearing hearing aids is not an option for me any more, but it used to be; up until about the age of 19 I didn’t wear my aids much, I was far too worried about how I would look with them in and how people would react to them. My hearing aids mostly stayed in a drawer at home, safely out of sight.

I know all to well the fears and doubts of stepping out with a hearing aid, you feel like the aids are attention-magnets and are sticking out like a sore thumb for everyone to gawp at. You believe that people are going to think you are stupid because you can’t hear perfectly, that people will think you are a bit ‘slow’ if you miss some conversation or have to ask people to repeat themselves. It’s very easy to convince yourself of all the horrible, nasty things that will happen when people see your hearing aid; you convince yourself that you are hiding your hearing loss perfectly well and nobody notices it so you don’t need a hearing aid, you are just about getting by without one.

I firmly believe that much of the stigma around hearing loss stems from misdiagnosis of hearing loss in years gone by. Historically kids with hearing problems absolutely would be labelled as “a bit slow” or would be put into special education rather than mainstream schooling; they would be treated the same as kids with serious mental problems that impaired their learning. Of course, that is mostly in the past and these days we have a much better understanding of hearing loss and how to treat it; for example, babies are given hearing tests to help catch problems early.

Studies have shown that it takes an average of seven years from the onset of a hearing problem for someone to seek help. That’s seven years of pretending to hear, of saying “yeah” in response to someone talking in the hope that it’s a good answer, seven years of laughing when everyone else does even though you have no idea what was funny, seven years of frustration and resentment. Why don’t people seek the simple solution to the problem?

It can be just as frustrating for friends, family and carers of someone with a hearing problem when they don’t seek help. The endless repeating, dealing with the confusion of misheard instructions, arguments about who said what, it’s not much fun for anyone. So how do you convince someone to get their hearing checked?

It’s not easy!

The worst thing you can do is to force someone to get fitted with a hearing aid when they haven’t admitted themselves that they need one. My parents made me get tested and my hearing aids sat in a drawer doing nothing until I was about 19 and couldn’t do without them; one of my auntie’s was the same, she got strong-armed into getting an aid and she just didn’t wear it, a total waste of time and money. If someone isn’t ready to wear an aid then they won’t, regardless of whether they own one or not.

So it’s a case of persuading them that they need one first of all. What finally persuaded me? I was sick of looking like an idiot when I didn’t hear and I really felt stupid – it’s horrible when you don’t hear something, say something out of context and everyone laughs. It took me years to realize it but I finally got there.

One tactic I’ve found that works to persuade people is to point out their mistakes, mention the things they’ve missed completely and the things they misheard but do it afterwards. Don’t laugh at them and mention it in front of their friends, make a note of what went wrong and tell them later when it’s just the two of you; don’t make a joke of it, just detail what they did wrong.

Making a list of the hearing mistakes works well. Rather than letting them know just after the mistakes or on the same day, keep a list of the mistakes and present it at the end of the week. A long list has a bigger impact.

Another thing I’ve found that works with some people is to let them know how their hearing problem is affecting loved ones. If some people around them are not talking to them or if the hearing problem has strained some relationships then let them see the impact.

Offer to help them out with the process of getting a hearing aid, some people are genuinely concerned about getting tested and fitted as they have no idea what to expect.

Don’t give up!

Steve Claridge has been wearing hearing aids for over 30 years. What started off as a minor hearing loss at the age of five is now a severe one, but his hearing aids help a lot. He blogs about all this at www.hearingaidknow.com.

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