"Blindness separates us from things, deafness separates us from people." -Helen Keller
Thanksgiving weekend at our house was probably like many of yours... lots of people, lots of laughs, and all generations coming together for dinner. It's a time where we catch up, share stories, and have our fair share of poking fun at one another. It's all fun and games unless you can't hear.
Hearing loss occurs gradually so it's hard to tell that it's happening. The most telling sign that hearing loss is occurring is during conversations when in the presence of background noise. Family dinners are no exception. For someone suffering with even mild hearing loss, this situation can be very challenging and isolating. I often hear this situation described as a garbled mess of sounds and it's hard to pick out what the person is saying, even though you can hear them just fine.
Here are some signs that your aging parents may have a hearing loss.
1. They no longer want to attend social functions or family gatherings.
Sometimes it's easier just to stay home and struggle to hear. By staying home they avoid being embarrassed by asking people to repeat themselves, or mishearing the question asked of them. Parents hate being a burden on their kids, so they will instead rather just stay home. They will often use other excuses to stay home than admit that they just can't understand what people are saying.
2. They end up doing most of the talking or none at all.
Often those with hearing loss will go either control conversations and do most of the talking while others tend to withdraw. Both strategies avoid the likelihood of embarrassment . When an individual does most of the talking it makes it easier for them to guide the direction of the conversation so there is less chance for misunderstanding. By keeping the ball in their court, they don't need to follow a conversation which could lead to embarrassment if they fail to follow someone else talking.
On the flip side, by keeping quiet, smiling and nodding, some individuals find it easier to take cues from others in the group. They can easily mimic a group reaction and make it appear as though they are following a conversation.
3. Everyone is mumbling or talking too fast, especially women and children.
Putting the blame on someone else's mumbling is far easier than admitting that they have a problem themselves. Even those with moderate to severe hearing loss can manage a face to face conversation in a quiet environment, especially with someone who speaks clearly while facing them. Hearing loss can sometimes occur only in some frequencies, typically high frequencies, while leaving other pitches with thresholds within normal limits. This can make the concept of having hearing loss confusing because on one hand they hear sounds as soft as footsteps approaching yet can't seem to hear a 5 year old asking for a glass of milk.
4.They like the TV loud.
Those with hearing loss will often complain that the background music of shows are so loud that they can't hear conversation. They will also say that some shows are easier to hear than others. Sometimes close caption is an easier option than making the effort to hear what is being said. Any of these signs are a strong indicator that someone may be suffering from some form of hearing loss.
5. They say "eh?" "huh?" or "what did she say?"an awful lot
Sometimes the biggest tell-tale sign that someone may have a hearing loss is that they keep asking you to repeat what was said. In that case, it is best not to make them feel bad about repeating. However, rather than repeat, my biggest tip would be to rephrase. Words that sound similar can be hard to make out for someone with hearing loss, so repeating the difficult word does not help them understand any better. Best is to find another way of saying the same thing so they understand what was being said.
The best approach if your aging parent has one or all of these signs is to help them be aware of these signs. Hearing loss happens very gradually and in most cases individuals take 5-7 years before they seek help for their hearing loss. When introducing the idea of getting their hearing checked, introduce it as just a check-up. Most people over the age of 60 already get regular check-ups, blood work, prescription refills, and have routine tests done all the time. Hearing check-ups also fall into that category. Hearing loss is linked to many other conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, falls, and others. It is a good idea to have a baseline hearing test done to see whether the hearing loss is occuring quickly or gradually declining. In most cases you can contact a hearing health care practitioner directly without a doctor referral.