The Better Hearing Institute (BHI), Washington, is urging families across America to make 2010 the year they help a loved one address hearing loss. The call to action comes in response to new data that underscores the influence family members have in getting loved ones to address hearing loss. According to a recent BHI survey of nearly 47,000 households, more than half (51%) of new, first-time owners of hearing aids indicated that family members were a key factor influencing their purchase of a hearing aid in 2008.
Some 55% of new hearing aids’ users sought treatment once they realized through testing how serious their hearing loss was. BHI is offering practical tips on how to best help family members and is providing a free, confidential, online hearing test at www.hearingcheck.org, where they can check their hearing in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.
According to Sergei Kochkin, PhD, executive director of BHI, lack of hearing loss testing and denial pose significant barriers to the improved well-being of people with unaddressed hearing loss. “Half of people with untreated hearing loss simply aren’t aware of their hearing loss and the impact it has on their lives and the lives of their loved ones―while others deny or minimize their known hearing loss,” he said in a statement.
Hearing loss is one of the most commonly unaddressed health conditions in America today, and affects more than 34 million Americans. Six out of 10 Americans with hearing loss are below retirement age, according to BHI. Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression, avoidance or withdrawal from social situations, social rejection and loneliness, reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety, impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced job performance and earning power, and diminished psychological and overall health.
“Helping a loved one who isn’t willing to help himself is one of the most painful challenges a family can face,” Kochkin said. “And helping a family member deal with hearing loss is no exception. But the most loving course you can take with someone in denial over their hearing loss is to help them come to terms with it so they seek treatment.”
In his book How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships: Motivating Your Loved One, BHI advisor Richard Carmen, AuD, offers practical advice on how hearing helpers can help their loved ones overcome denial and seek treatment for their hearing loss:
First, understand that although you may think your efforts are loving and helpful, acting as ears for someone you love is actually counterproductive. With you to act as their ears, why would they seek treatment for their hearing loss?
Stop repeating yourself, raising your voice, and acting as messenger. Rather, involve the entire family in your efforts to help your loved one hear independently of your help. A concerted effort can help your loved one finally admit s/he has a hearing problem.
Explain to your loved one with hearing loss—in a calm, loving voice without condemnation —that you will no longer repeat yourself or raise your voice. Instead, when s/he asks for information to be repeated at greater volume, you will use words like hearing helper or some other signal to alert him that he is relying on someone else to act as his ears. By doing this, you help him realize how often he has to ask for help to hear. Hopefully, the inescapable realization will finally move him to seek treatment for his hearing loss.
"When a family member experiences unaddressed hearing loss, it silently erodes his quality of life—undermining family relationships, interfering with short-term memory, and creeping into virtually every aspect of daily living," Kochkin says. "I encourage anyone who has a loved one with unaddressed hearing loss to make the most selfless New Year’s resolution you’ve ever made. Reach out and stop your loved one from drawing back in isolated silence. Make 2010 the year you help someone you love regain the gift of sound. It’s a New Year’s resolution well worth keeping.”