Living with or caring for someone suffering from undiagnosed hearing loss is no fun – not for them, and especially not for you. And if you think the situation is going to improve any time soon, you may be waiting a very long time. That’s because, from the time a person begins to experience hearing loss until the time they actually seek help for it, can be a staggering 10 years! On average, it’s more likely to be 7, but that is still a very long time to be forever repeating yourself, always having to raise your voice (and in some cases having to shout) to make yourself heard, having conversations that end in confusion, and having to explain to others unfamiliar with the situation why your loved one can’t hear them. It’s also a long time to be criticised for not ‘not speaking clearly or loudly enough’, having a ‘softer voice than everyone else’, for ‘mumbling’, and for ‘not relaying information correctly’. Besides which, it’s not good for your own hearing to be in a house with the TV and radio on much louder than they need to be for the average user.
The reasons why those suffering from undiagnosed hearing loss are reluctant to seek help are well documented – shame at the thought of having to wear hearing aids, reluctance to pay for them, denial about growing older (if this is the cause), or ‘no time’ to have a test. Less documented is the suffering experienced by those living with the affected person. Constant criticism from any loved-one can really get you down, but when the affected person is your partner, life can get downright depressing! Often you’ll find yourself avoiding conversation, unable to share a quiet ‘I love you’, or a whispered private comment at a party. Which is why living with someone with undiagnosed hearing loss can be lonely.
There are many ways to approach the hearing-loss subject with a loved-one: sharing articles on the subject with them, offering to make the appointment for them, booking yourself in for an appointment and suggesting they might like to have one at the same time, discussing the health issues of having undiagnosed hearing loss, getting friends and family to discuss the situation with them – the list goes on. But if nothing has worked so far, it really is time, for your own sake, to practise some tough love.
For a start, make your own feelings very clear (and this is best done in written form so there’s no miscommunication). If this brings no results, give up trying to converse, even if if it means little niceties (such as ‘would you like to go for a walk’) go by the by. And in doing so, accept that, love them though you do, your hearing-loss loved-one is actually going to miss out on social events because they haven’t heard about them, i.e. you’ll be going to the party alone. Stop trying to compensate for their hearing loss – in other words, turn the TV and radio down to a suitable level for you, and keep doing it if necessary. Give up relaying information (at a louder level or spoken directly into their ear) when out with company. Don’t be the only one in the house who answers the phone. And lastly, let your friends and family know what you’re doing so they can help (there’s nothing more likely to persuade a loved one to have a hearing test than realising their grandchildren aren’t speaking to them).
Tough love is a powerful tool. It doesn’t mean being cruel. It does mean caring for yourself.