Hearing loss does not only have an effect on the individual, it is an experience shared with partners and families alike. Those close to us are able to make us aware of changes in our ability to hear and they can minimise the impact that comes with the news, by showing acceptance and support.
If you or a family member is experiencing signs of hearing impairment, you’re not alone: Hearing loss impacts many families in Australia today, with one in six Australians developing some form of hearing loss throughout their life. And this figure is expected to grow to one in four by 2050. With the more common causes of hearing loss being old age and exposure to loud sounds, anyone within the family can develop this condition over time.
There are different forms of hearing loss that affect Australians: sensorineural, conductive and mixed hearing loss, and auditory neuropathy. Each can have an impact on the ability to hear in one ear (unilateral) or both (bilateral), which is important to note when we are discussing impacts of hearing loss on the family. The same holds true for conditions such as tinnitus, where sound, as opposed to being lost, is created without any source to the sound. Usually, people who experience tinnitus may hear a ringing or buzzing noise in one or both ears from time to time or even constantly.
Hearing disabilities are often accompanied by increased tiredness, a struggle with background noise, and a gradual withdrawal from social activities, leading to increased feelings of loneliness. These factors affect the hearing impaired as they find it difficult to understand their partner and family members, who also play an instrumental role in supporting their loved ones. With so many Australians being susceptible to hearing loss, many families are affected by the sudden or gradual onset of hearing loss.
To reduce the isolating effects of hearing loss and build happier relationships with better communication, it’s important to have a close look at the effects of hearing disabilities on the family. This article provides suggestions on how to react to and manage the hearing loss if we ourselves, or someone close to us is affected.
It takes a little time to adjust to life with a family member who is suffering from hearing loss.
Most of all, it takes acceptance and a considerable amount of patience – and it’s best to work as a team to develop rules and strategies. Here is what you should expect from the process!
Change in Family Dynamic
Sometimes the family member that is hard of hearing is tended to with a little too much sensitivity. They might be stripped of some of their responsibilities which are then allocated to other family members, and this might make them feel a little incapable. Make sure that older siblings or family members with hearing loss are treated as “older” and give them the independence and support they need to take on tasks they feel comfortable with. Avoid overloading younger siblings with extra responsibilities, only because their hearing is fine.
It’s of great importance for all family members to learn how to communicate effectively with older or younger family members suffering from hearing impairments. A change in content and the nature of conversation is not unusual but can lead to increased feeling of isolation on all sides. Speaking clearly and looking directly at the addressed person helps to communicate more effectively. Never minimise or play down the challenges coming with hearing loss. It is going to require a certain amount of effort to maintain the prior quality of dialogue within the family and avoid frustrations and misunderstandings.
Effective communication can be challenging in a group setting even if your hearing is absolutely fine. Consequently, it can become exasperating for those with hearing loss. Check out our helpful tips for communicating in group settings to devise some strategies for the future.
Interaction With Grandparents
Many grandparents experience age-related hearing loss and try to compare their diminished abilities to hear to their child’s or grandchild’s innate hearing loss. They are, however, quite different experiences and cannot be considered equal. Instead, grandparents may offer support by keeping an open mind and promoting their grandchildren’s curiosity. Most importantly: they can help the little ones by not treating them differently to their hearing siblings or cousins.
Siblings of hearing-impaired children often have to face tough challenges for kids, such as dealing with unkind comments by others and answering curious questions about their brother or sister. Make sure to prepare kids for these things and give them a helping hand by teaching them the appropriate responses.
In addition, how they themselves are affected by their siblings hearing loss is not seldom overlooked. They become interpreters and ambassadors. It’s easy to fall into the trap of having a sibling convey messages to a child with hearing loss. Don’t’ make the mistake to pass on your responsibilities as an adult. Instead, make sure everyone has their own chores, encourage kids to play together and don’t be overprotective. Parents often shelter their hard of hearing child from outside dangers and this can prevent them from developing social skills and to feel independent.
The golden rule for parents of children suffering from hearing loss: Let go of your anxiety and stop worrying about the future. Instead, focus on what your child needs from you now to learn and grow like any other kid. Most importantly: Make sure they’re able to be just that – a child. Wearing the right hearing aid has a huge impact on your child’s ability to play, learn and thrive. Teach them how to maintain their hearing aid early on – changing batteries, keeping them in their case at night and so on, will normalise this experience for them. Make sure to also teach them to speak up when they need assistance and communicate their needs. Let them speak for themselves rather than speaking for them and encourage them to pursue their dreams and ambitions – just like you would with any other child.
Not hearing your children’s or grandchildren’s voices well can be highly frustrating. When everyone struggles to communicate, it becomes an obvious problem. Once the hearing loss affected family member gets a hearing aid, things usually go back to normal, but stubbornness and unawareness of the problem are often in the way of change.
What else could provide some form of relief? Refer older siblings, parents, and grandparents to helpful guides to do some independent research. It is important to identify whether your grandparents are eligible for free services under the Australian Government’s Hearing Services Program (HSP).
Make sure that hearing loss is correctly diagnosed with a hearing test by a hearing health services specialist. Sometimes hearing loss can be misdiagnosed as dementia. Some of the symptoms of hearing loss are certainly similar to those of dementia: The difficulty in communicating with others and the difficulty to process sounds, particularly when there are distractions. According to recent research, the difficulty to process information can be one of the first signs of some form of cognitive impairment. Evidence also suggests that the diagnosis and management of hearing loss, which includes getting hearing aids, can reduce the risk and impact of dementia.
Making an effort to see and chat with elderly parents and grandparents, whose hearing loss often leads to increased isolation and a feeling of loneliness, is an important factor in ensuring they are included and engaged with.
Hearing loss finds its way into your life in often unexpected ways. Whether you’re the parent of a hearing-impaired baby, the partner of a person that is hard of hearing, live with parents suffering from age-related hearing loss or are experiencing it first hand, you are not left alone with this challenge. There are a variety of support networks aimed at making your life and that of your loved ones easier.
Family support may include advice, information, the exchange with others who are affected, finding childcare or transportation services and giving parents time for relaxation or lending a sympathetic ear. A few great communities for those hard of hearing, are Cochlear Community, Better Hearing Australian Support Groups and Deafness Forum Australia.
Do you believe you, your child or a loved one is suffering from hearing loss? There are many signs to look out for. The friendly team from Attune can help you with a free hearing test. Based on the test results, it can be determined if further steps need to be taken. It’s as simple as that.