by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A concerned (and frustrated) daughter wrote
I’m hoping that you can help me. My mother is 63 and has significant hearing loss which was diagnosed about 20 years ago. She bought hearing aids about 2 years ago and has never, ever used them.
She is not in denial about her hearing loss. Her excuse is simply, ‘If I wear my hearing aids, I’ll hear all of the things that I don’t normally hear and it will drive me crazy.’ The worst part is that when my mother doesn’t hear everything someone says she will simply fill in her own blanks—which creates arguments and disagreements amongst her family and friends. She will always interpret what she missed in the most negative way, and then gets her feelings hurt over something no one said to her. This is unbelievably frustrating. I am tired of repeating myself and talking too loud, and also being the arbitrator in arguments that I know stem 99% of the time because my mother didn’t hear what she thought she heard.
How can I convince her that hearing the good things in life is far more important that being bothered by occasional noise?
Some people just aren’t ready to wear hearing aids when someone pressures them to get them. Actually, this happens a lot! The time to get hearing aids is when you are ready to wear them, not when someone says you need them. (Yes, the person does need them—but it is just wasted money if they then never wear them.)
Your mother has a valid point when she says, “If I wear the hearing aids, I will be able to hear all of the things that I don’t normally hear and it will drive me crazy.”
Your mom hasn’t heard many of these background sounds for a number of years, and thus hearing them all at once is nerve-wracking to say the least.
The solution to this is that your mom has to slowly learn to wear her hearing aids—first in quiet surroundings so there are no other noises to blast her ears. In such quiet surroundings, she should converse with one person. When she is comfortable doing that, then she can slowly graduate to noisier places and do the same. Over time her brain will adjust to the extra noise, but this takes up to 3 months—so don’t hurry the process.
Like your mom, I don’t hear everything someone says—whether I wear my hearing aids or not. You see, hearing aids aren’t perfect. Thus, if your expectation is that she will hear everything, you and she will be sadly disappointed. If both of you go with the expectation that in quiet surroundings she will hear quite a bit more than she does now, then you have the right expectations. In noisy situations, all bets are off unless she also uses assistive listening devices.
You explain how your mom, when she misses something, “simply fills in her own blanks—which creates arguments and disagreements among her family and friends.”
Don’t be too hard on your mom. When we (hard of hearing people) miss words, we naturally try to fill in the blanks—sometimes we fill them in with the right words, and sometimes with the wrong words. Unfortunately, if we miss a key word, what we think we hear is likely totally “off the wall”. Problems arise when we insist that what we thought we heard is what you said. Part of adjusting to being hard of hearing is realizing that what we think we hear is often not what was actually said. Thus, we need to be flexible to others telling us what really was said when they realize we are off track.
I understand your frustration about repeating yourself. However, look at it this way. If you have to repeat yourself, this just shows that you are not doing the right things so that your mom can hear and understand you the first time.
Use me for an example. If you are going to talk to me and I don’t have my hearing aids on, you are going to have to get close (and by close I mean almost nose to nose, not talking to me from across a room). Furthermore, you need to have adequate light on your face and you must be facing me so I can speechread you. Also, you need to speak clearly and maybe a bit more slowly. If you don’t do these things every time, you will just have to repeat yourself (and get frustrated in the process).
Thus, when talking to a hard of hearing person, you need to meet their communication needs before you start talking.
You ask, “How can I convince my mom that hearing the good things in life is far more important that being bothered by occasional noise?”
I think you have the wrong idea about what you call “occasional noise”. To you, there are foreground sounds (like the person you are talking to) and background sounds (environmental sounds, etc. that you ignore).
When you are hard of hearing, there is no such thing as foreground and background sounds—they are all in the foreground so are annoying and loud—and trying to hear someone through them at times is nigh to being impossible.
That is why wearing hearing aids in quiet places with one person talking and being no more than 6 or so feet apart is the ideal. Under those conditions, wearing hearing aids really helps. However, when you add in noise and distance, hearing aids rapidly become less and less helpful. When it is too noisy, wearing hearing aids can actually make things worse, not better.
This is why hearing aids are not the whole answer. In order to successfully live with a hearing loss, you need to do four things (after you have accepted and adjusted emotionally and psychologically to your hearing loss). These four things are not optional—they are all equally important.
- Get and wear (when appropriate) properly fitted hearing aids.
- Supplement the hearing aids with assistive listening devices when noise and distance interfere.
- Learn to speechread (lip reading was the older term).
- Learn and practice the myriads of proper hearing loss coping skills such as get close, face the person, have adequate light on your face, cut out background noise, etc, etc.
If your mom will do all four of these things, she will understand ever so much more (and you will not be so frustrated either).
However, you need to remember that communication is a two-way street, thus both you and your mom have to do your respective parts. Your mom has to do the above 4 things, and you have to accommodate her hearing needs (basically point 4 above). When you both do this, you’ll both be much happier and communication will be ever so much easier!
For more information on communicating with hard of hearing people get the short easy-to-read book “Talking With Hard of Hearing People—Here’s How to Do It Right!“.