How to Honor Older Relatives Who Have Hearing Loss

tree-648788_1280At my age (I’m a proud 57), I and many of my contemporaries are dealing with aging parents. With age comes hearing loss, and, although I haven’t practiced audiology (MA in audiology, University of Memphis, 1984) in 22 years*, I do still remember a thing or two about hearing impairment and its impact on individuals and their loved ones.

To that end, I offer these tips on how to help your hearing impaired friends and relatives continue to feel included in family and group activities.

Understand that hearing aids are not a panacea. Yes, they do amplify sounds, but they do not return hearing to normal. Even with a hearing aid, a hearing impaired person will not be able to understand speech in a situation that is full of background noise. Think of this when you’re cranking up the background music — you’re essentially excluding your hearing-impaired loved one from the conversation. It’s worth it to forego the music to make your friend or relative feel included.

Make the extra effort. It’s not easy for them to follow your conversation, but they are trying. You’ll have to try too. Show them how important they are to you by ensuring that you’re looking at them when you speak. Don’t raise your voice; that just distorts the sound and the movement of your lips and makes it more difficult for them to understand. Speak clearly and don’t mumble; make sure you’re facing them. Take the time to be sure they understand — they’re worth it.

Never tell them, “Oh, it’s nothing.” That signals that it’s just too much trouble to help them understand and further isolates them. Fill them in, in a way they can understand.

Don’t get impatient or irritated with them. They can no more help their hearing loss than you can change the color of your eyes. One day you’ll be old and maybe you won’t hear so well either. You owe them your patience.

Be empathetic. Try to walk a mile in their shoes. Imagine if you were in a room of people and could barely understand what was being said. How would you feel? Don’t berate them; help them as you would an elderly relative who can’t stand for a long time.

Understand. Sometimes they may get tired of trying to hear and zone out. Have you ever attended a lecture by a speaker with a heavy foreign accent? It’s mentally exhausting to listen and try to interpret the speaker’s words. Hearing-impaired folks sometimes feel the same way and need a break. Be understanding if they zone out for a bit because they need the mental rest.

Loving care and compassion go a long way to help an older relative feel vital and loved. Yes, our world moves quickly, but if you don’t slow down for your elders, you’ll miss a lot of love and wisdom. And that’s a damned shame.

*I did practice audiology for 11 years, and spent many of those years working with older hearing-impaired patients and their families. 

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