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Let's Talk About Hearing Loss (Canada)

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“Would you like a roll, Dad?” Marilyn asked her dad, age 84, across the restaurant table.

Her dad kept eating, his gaze focused on his plate. Marilyn tried again. Touching her dad’s forearm, she said more loudly, “Dad! Would you like a roll?”

This time Marilyn’s dad looked up with raised eyebrows, his signal that he knew his daughter was speaking to him, but he had not caught what she said.

“DAD,” Marilyn fairly shouted, leaning toward him and speaking slowly. “WOULD YOU LIKE A ROLL?”

“Ah,” her dad said with a smile, “yes, I would. Thank you.”

Marilyn saw a couple of heads turn her way and felt embarrassed. She wondered if those other diners thought she was yelling at her dad in anger or something. She tried to wrap up their lunch as quickly as possible, avoiding further conversation to save them both the frustration.

Like thousands of other family caregivers across North America, Marilyn was learning how to cope with her dad’s hearing loss. She knew the situation was stressful for him because he frequently expressed his frustration at not being able to participate in conversations. What hurt him the most, he said, was not being able to hear the first words his great-granddaughter said.

But Dad’s hearing loss was stressful for Marilyn, too. She constantly had to repeat herself or even write things down to communicate them. At the end of some days with Dad, her vocal cords felt strained. And she grew ever-more reluctant to take her dad out in public because of the way strangers stared at them as she raised her voice to communicate.

Effects of Hearing Loss

The effects of hearing loss can extend beyond the most obvious frustrations for the person experiencing hearing impairment and everyone with whom that person communicates. The following are a few effects to be aware of:

  • Social Isolation. As people lose their hearing, they may become less likely to participate in social activities that involve conversation, which can lead to isolation. But the effects of hearing loss extend far beyond the social consequences.
  • Hearing loss can lead to emotional issues, including sadness and depression according to Statistics Canada. One study by the U.S. National Council on Aging found that people who did not treat their hearing loss were 50 percent more likely to report symptoms of depression.
  • Increased Risk of Falls. The ear plays a key role in balance, and hearing loss is considered a “modifiable risk factor” for falls, according to a report by doctors Frank R. Lin and Luigi Ferrucci . If a loved one experiences frequent falls, it may be worthwhile to suggest they have their hearing checked.
  • Stress on Family Caregivers. Hearing loss can exact a toll on family caregivers. Trying to communicate with a person who can’t hear is often exasperating and disheartening. Spousal caregivers, in particular, might experience sadness due to the loss of companionship that can be caused by hearing loss.

How to Recognize the Signs of Hearing Loss

For many older adults, hearing loss occurs very gradually over the course of many years. Because humans tend to adapt to sensory deficits, people with hearing loss may find ways to compensate because they don’t realize they are losing their hearing.

Family caregivers can help loved ones recognize hearing loss by looking for some of the signs outlined by the Canadian Hearing Society.

Older adults with hearing loss might:

  • Frequently complain of a “poor connection” to excuse an inability to hear telephone conversations clearly
  • Not participate in conversations in group settings, such as a family gathering
  • Ask people to repeat things frequently
  • Make comments that don’t match the conversation that’s underway
  • Turn up the TV volume or speak in a loud voice
  • Avoid face-to-face chats and turn to email or texting instead

How to Talk about Hearing Loss

Like many aging adults, Marilyn’s dad initially scoffed when his daughter suggested he have his hearing tested. He believed hearing aids were only for the very elderly, and he certainly wasn’t going to wear any!

For many people, hearing aids still carry a social stigma. But if you broach the conversation with compassion, you may be able to help a family member recognize the benefits of treating hearing loss.

  • Start with empathy. Use phrases like, “You look frustrated when you have trouble understanding what I’m saying,” or “It must be hard to watch your friends talking and not be able to understand them.” Empathy conveys your sensitivity to the other person’s feelings and makes clear your desire to help.
  • Share how the situation affects you. Feel free to share your feelings regarding the impact of a loved one’s hearing loss on your own quality of life. It’s OK to say things like, “I miss our conversations so much,” or “I feel embarrassed when I have to raise my voice in public for you to hear me.”
  • Follow up with the benefits of treating hearing loss. Point out the many ways in which a loved one might benefit from addressing their inability to hear clearly. Being able to participate in conversations again or hearing what the grandchildren have to say might persuade an older adult to treat their hearing loss.
  • Offer solutions beyond hearing aids. There are many types of assistive devices available for people with various degrees of hearing loss. A captioned telephone service might help with phone conversations, and devices like alarm clocks and doorbells that provide visual cues by flashing might be all a relative needs to live safely with mild to moderate hearing loss.
  • Try Veteran’s Affairs Canada (VAC). If the cost of hearing aids is a concern, suggest the family member check with VAC regarding the Hearing Loss Entitlement Eligibility Guideline

After the incident in the restaurant, Marilyn took her dad home and had a conversation about his hearing. Initially resistant, he eventually said he had noticed his hearing declining for some time. He admitted he had missed a parcel delivery recently because he didn’t hear the doorbell, and he wished he could have followed the family’s conversation around the Christmas dinner table.

For her part, Marilyn expressed how much she missed those easy conversations they used to have in Dad’s workshop, and how she wished her children could experience those moments, too. Marilyn’s dad eventually made a trip to an audiologist for recommendations.

Having the hearing conversation can feel as daunting as the car keys talk, but the benefits of treating hearing loss can pay big dividends. By using the points and strategies outlined above by the Canadian Hearing Society, you may be able to help a loved one reclaim their ability to converse with friends and family members. And your life as a caregiver may become quieter, too.

Last revised: March 6, 2018

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