When someone in the family has hearing loss, the whole family is impacted. Getting everyone on the same page can help enhance communication and make hearing loss much less frustrating and difficult for all. As the person with hearing loss, it is your responsibility to allow your family to share your unique journey. Here are some tips to do just that.
Tell them about your hearing loss.
Your immediate family is usually the first to know, but extended family may not be aware that you have trouble hearing. Being upfront and open about your struggles will allow others to provide the help you need and will explain any mis-hearings or non-sequiturs that occur. Honesty and acceptance are key aspects of a productive relationship.
Explain what your hearing loss is like.
Hearing loss is difficult to understand if you have not experienced it so you may need to explain what yours is like several times and in a variety of settings to give them a full picture. Suggest your family wear earplugs at the next family dinner or on their commute to school or the office to experience difficulty hearing. This won’t be fully accurate since earplugs don’t mimic the distortion that comes with hearing loss, but it will give them an idea of what it is like.
Bring them to an audiologist appointment.
Learning about your audiogram and the severity of your hearing loss from an expert may help them to understand the seriousness of the challenges you face. Your family can also help your audiologist get a better sense of which communication situations are most challenging for you, which will aid in your treatment.
Share your emotions about your hearing loss.
While it is tempting to keep a stiff upper lip, the more you share the frustrations and sadness that surrounds your hearing loss, the closer your relationships with your family will be. Vulnerability is a path to true partnership.
Break down stigma.
If you are comfortable with your hearing issues, others will be too. When I was growing up, my father had hearing loss but would not discuss it. This made it an unmentionable topic in the family and prevented us from assisting him when he needed it. Make your hearing loss a normal part of the family dynamic.
Teach them communication best practices.
Small things like getting a person’s attention before speaking, keeping your mouth uncovered and always facing the person with hearing loss when you speak can go a long way towards improving communication. Family members must be educated about what they need to do to help you hear your best. Be as specific as possible so they better understand your needs and don’t resort to yelling or leaning into your ear to talk.
Ask them to partner with you on your self-advocacy efforts.
When your family collects the caption reader at the movies for you or asks the restaurant manager to lower the music, you can feel their strong support. It also helps you conserve energy for the additional self-advocacy battles that likely lie ahead.
Create a visual signal for when you didn’t hear something.
Visual signals can be just as effective as asking “What?” and won’t interrupt the flow of the conversation. They can also limit the frustration that comes on both sides from your repeatedly asking your family to speak so you can hear them.
Experiment with new technologies.
Ask your family to help you test new assistive listening devices to see if they make conversation easier when out to dinner or in other settings. This can be a fun adventure, especially with kids who tend to be more tech-savvy.
Involve your family in the hearing loss community.
Invite them to attend a Walk4Hearing with you or volunteer as a family at a hearing loss related charity. The more they learn about hearing loss, the better they can understand and support you in your challenges.
Bring your sense of humor.
Mis-hearings will occur, so don’t take them too seriously. Some can be very funny if you let them be. Keeping a light-hearted attitude can go a long way towards building family support.
Involving your family in your hearing loss journey will help you develop a strong support network where you need it most. Being honest, asking for the specific assistance you need, and enlisting them in your self-advocacy efforts will help strengthen your relationships and enhance communication success for both sides.