According to AgeUK, around 40% of people over the age of 50 in the UK have some form of hearing loss. Hearing loss can occur due to ageing, regular exposure to loud noise, a history with middle ear disease or a family history of hearing loss. Because hearing loss tends to take place gradually and over time, the person experiencing it may not even realise it's happening.
Often, a parent's loss of hearing is first spotted by their children. It may be that they regularly misunderstand you or don't respond when you say something to them, they might have started to talk very loudly and watch the TV with volume turned all the way up.
If you've noticed that your elderly parent has started to have trouble hearing and are concerned about how this affects their daily life, it might be time to address the issue. We explore some top tips for addressing what may be a sensitive topic...
A little research can go a long way in helping you to talk with your parent about their hearing condition. The more you understand, the more you can share with them when the time is right to discuss what help and technological interventions are available. Your research can help your parent to fell less overwhelmed and at the mercy of endless options and opinions - which is often a barrier to seeking help.
Choose Your Timing
If your parent hasn't voiced any concerns about their hearing with you, then the chances are the conversation may come as a surprise to them. Try to avoid broaching the subject if your parent is feeling stressed, frustrated, or irritable. The same applies to how you're feeling. Rather, wait for a moment when both you and they are in a relaxed state and the atmosphere is calm. It might be best to talk with them privately, just the two of you, and to have the conversation in casual and concerned way, rather than approaching it with urgency and distress.
Try to put yourself in your parent's shoes and imagine how being on the receiving end of this conversation might feel. While chatting with your parent about their loss of hearing, try to avoid appearing patronising and try to lead and direct the conversation with love and compassion. It'll be important not to lose sight of your good intentions if the conversation doesn't go the way you planned.
Focus on the Positives
Rather than going in fast with all kinds of facts and overwhelming information about hearing loss and hearing aids, try to ease into the conversation. The last thing you want is for your parent to feel bombarded and forced into defence mode. It may be easier to take a softer approach and lead with the idea of wanting to make their life easier and more comfortable. Make it clear that you want to help them to be able to engage in their daily activities more comfortably, and that with some help, it's certainly possible.
Let your parent know that you're willing to help as far as you can. This may include accompanying them to their hearing test appointment, (and any other further appointments), conducting further research with them or helping them to make decisions regarding a course of action. Reassure them that you're committed to supporting their health and wellbeing and that nothing about you helping them is a burden to you.
If your parent shows interest, and you're fortunate enough to be in the position to help your parent pay for their hearing aid, perhaps you can gift it to them. This might just be the nudge they need - if that's appropriate for your family circumstances.
It may be that after all this, your parent isn't ready or interested in dealing with their loss of hearing or they dismiss your concerns about it. That's okay, and that's their prerogative. It generally takes people years to come to terms with changes in their hearing ability and to do anything about it. Try not to feel too disheartened if they're not keen for your help or deny that they even need it. With time, you can re-address the conversation and try again. What's most important is that they know you care and are willing to support when the time comes.