No matter your age, having your parents in your life is a blessing. For Generation X and Baby Boomers whose parents are aging, this is even more so.
However, this blessing can sometimes come with having uncomfortable conversations with your parents about unpopular topics such as when it’s time to stop driving or living independently, when it’s time to get that second medical opinion or when it’s time to get help for a hearing loss that is causing communication breakdowns.
A fear of losing independence
Nobody wants to throw in the towel and admit they can’t do things they have always enjoyed. Not only that, but most parents and their children dread the day when their roles may be reversed – when the adult child is faced with becoming a caregiver for their aging parents. Much of the turmoil surrounding this time for aging adults is rooted in a fear of losing their independence.
Having an untreated or ignored hearing loss may not seem like the most pressing difficulty facing your aging parents, but it can have a big impact on their health and safety. Operating a vehicle without begin able to hear emergency sirens or other drivers honking can cause accidents. Not being able to communicate effectively with multiple medical professionals and specialists can result in instructions not being followed and dangerous misunderstandings. Further, it’s been shown that when you have an untreated hearing loss, your medical expenses for other conditions increase. Even navigating public transportation with a hearing loss can be frustrating and can discourage your folks from leaving home to run errands or visit friends.
Studies have shown that when hearing loss is ignored, it can hasten cognitive decline. Not being able to hear means your parents will have a harder time connecting with others which leads to social isolation, feelings of helplessness, and low mood. They may stop doing many of the things they once enjoyed. Even your own interactions with your folks may become strained due to their hearing loss, and this is no way to spend your precious time together.
Tips for talking about hearing loss
If you’re ready to broach this difficult topic and tell your parents it’s time to get hearing aids, there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Here are some tips for success.
Do your homework – Take time to research the basics of hearing loss and hearing aids. If your parents have limited knowledge, they’ll appreciate that you are a few steps ahead of them. If they already know a lot about hearing loss treatment, you’ll be able to have an intelligent discussion if you know the basics.
Healthy Hearing is the perfect place to learn about hearing loss through our extensive library of help pages and downloadable consumer guides.
Timing is important – Avoid talking about hearing aids with your parents during times when they may feel stressed out about other things or are at maximum frustration with their hearing loss. Wait until you have some peaceful alone time with them. Turn off the television and silence your phones so you won’t be interrupted.
Be empathetic and loving – First, try and put yourself in their shoes. After all, many years down the road, you may be the one on the receiving end of this difficult conversation with your children. You want them to get help for their hearing loss because you want the best for them. Don’t lose sight of your good intentions if the conversation isn’t going the way you hoped.
Focus on the effects – Rather than talking incessantly about the hearing loss itself, which could cause your mom or dad to become defensive, focus on how the hearing loss is affecting your lives. You might tell them that you are sad to see they don’t enjoy playing bridge anymore or going to the theater as they once did. You might mention that they seem tired and frustrated more often because listening with hearing loss is much harder than with normal hearing. You might even tell them how much their young granddaughter misses being able to talk to them on the phone. Ask them to open up to you about other challenges the hearing loss is causing.
Partner up – To the extent they want help, offer it. The beginning of a new journey with hearing aids can be daunting with so many product choices, confusing hearing aid advertisements, and technology that can be difficult to understand. Help Mom or Dad find a hearing care professional close to home, and offer to go to their appointments with them. It’s useful to have a second set of ears at these appointments since there will be a lot of information to digest, and you can help your parents sort through it.
Finally, if you are in the fortunate position to be able to help your mom or dad pay for their new hearing aids, consider that your help could be just the push they need to take the next step. Hearing aids are expensive, and they are not covered by Medicare. Price alone is one of the most common reasons why people don’t buy hearing aids.
Be an advocate – If you succeed, and Mom or Dad ends up with new hearing aids, that’s wonderful. But, new hearing aids are only the beginning of the better hearing journey. Adjusting to new sounds and getting used to handling hearing aids isn’t easy for everyone. You can be a valuable resource for your folks by practicing hearing aid care with them in between their follow up appointments, talking about all the new sounds they are hearing and just being patient with their process.
You can also be their champion with the rest of the family so everyone understands how best to communicate with your parents. As we grow older, we sometimes become less assertive about our needs and less willing to “rock the boat.” If the hearing aids aren’t working properly or if your parent isn’t satisfied, be a liaison between them and their hearing care professional. Don’t let their concerns be ignored, or those hard-won hearing aids may end up in the junk drawer.
Hearing aids are packed with amazing technology that improves people’s lives every day. However, the entire better hearing experience depends heavily on patients’ relationships with their hearing care professionals. After you discuss their need for hearing help, find a trusted hearing care professional nearby. In our directory, you can view profiles and even read candid reviews from patients.
Hearing aids for your parents will be a gift for your whole family!
Brande Plotnick, MS, MBA, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
Brande Plotnick holds a master’s degree and MBA from the University of Louisville. Her career in hearing care spans sales, marketing and content creation and she enjoys helping people with hearing loss seek help and be their own advocates. Read more about Brande.
Contributed by Brande Plotnick, MS, MBA, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
March 14, 2017