Dealing with Resistance

When hearing loss affects a close friend or family member who is unready or unable to admit they need help, it can be difficult to start the conversation.

You may find yourself in the unenviable position of having to convince your parent, grandparent, sibling, or other relative that it is time to get a hearing exam. Perhaps you’ve already faced tremendous resistance to the very idea. Here are some tips on how to respond should your loved one reject your support.

Denial is a common response

A 2009 survey by Applied Research questioned 250 American baby boomers (ages 50 to 75) and 250 children of boomers about their hearing. Key findings included:

  • The majority believed their hearing was better than average, while spouses and children wished they would have their hearing tested.
  • The majority did not use nor were they considering getting a hearing device.
  • Awareness of hearing loss risks and preventative measures was lower in boomers than their children.
  • Stigma discouraged those with hearing loss from considering hearing devices.

When asked about their hearing, 72 percent of older Americans say their hearing is average or better. Their children disagree—most report having suggested their parents get their hearing tested (70 percent have prodded their father and 64 percent their mother). Clearly, older Americans are in denial about their hearing loss.

Family members within the orbit of those with hearing loss are often reluctant to confront this denial. Instead, they will make excuses for their loved ones to maintain a sense of normalcy. Spouses will write off a lack of response to their questions as, “Oh, they’re just distracted” or “They’re ignoring me.” Children may shrug and say, “My parent is getting older—loss of hearing is part of the package.” While well-intentioned, this kind of avoidance harms everyone involved, especially those whose hearing is worsening daily due to lack of treatment.

Excuses wear thin eventually, as do tempers and patience. Family members who once used to speak freely at dinner may stay silent after repeatedly being scolded for saying, “What?” to everything. At work, colleagues and employers may no longer accept the excuse of misunderstanding directions when a job isn’t completed properly. Isolation grows along with depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. What began as a physical condition has quickly turned into a psychological one that damages cherished relationships and enjoyment of life.

And the saddest part? This downward spiral is usually preventable.

Overcoming the stigma of admitting to hearing loss

Considering the negative impact of hearing loss, why do so many people avoid treatment? Cost is frequently cited as a major factor, but pride is the more likely reason. One-third of those asked say they fear wearing a hearing aid will “look awkward” and 29 percent say it will “make me look old.”

One way to overcome these objections is to explain that not being able to keep up with conversations is making the person look far more awkward at work or in social situations than hearing aids ever could. In addition, one of the most common stereotypes regarding the elderly is that they constantly need others to repeat themselves or accuse everyone of mumbling. What better way to eliminate this worry than with hearing aids?

By focusing on the positives of resolving your loved one’s hearing loss and pointing out—in a kind and supportive manner—the risks of denial, you can guide your reluctant family member toward making the right decision for their health and happiness.

Get advice from a hearing care professional

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