'The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders tells us that one in five Americans struggles with hearing loss, and that ratio drops to one in three for people older than 65,' says Dr. Sara Burdak of hearing aid manufacturer Starkey Hearing Technologies. 'Holiday gatherings can be particularly problematic for people with untreated hearing loss, as many loud voices, background music and noise can make it difficult to follow, participate in and feel a part of conversations and celebrations.'
Families may struggle with how to help their loved ones cope. Talking about the problem is the first step toward treating hearing loss, but families may be unsure how to begin the conversation. The holidays, however, present the perfect opportunity to discuss a family member's hearing loss in a supportive, positive atmosphere, Burdak points out.
Burdak offers some advice for initiating the conversation:
* Take note of the common signs of hearing loss, such as turning up the TV volume to a level that is uncomfortable for others in the room, speaking too loudly, asking others to repeat what they've said and having trouble using the telephone. Depression may also be an indicator of hearing loss, as the condition can make people feel isolated.
* Set the stage for a successful talk. Choose a quiet moment in a location that is comfortable and familiar to the person with hearing loss. Minimize background noises that might make it difficult for him or her to hear and understand what you're saying. Don't raise your voice, but speak slowly and clearly, and make sure to face your loved one so he or she can clearly follow the movement of your lips.
* Keep your language compassionate, not accusatory. For example, rather than saying 'you can't hear me when I talk,' try 'I'm concerned by how often you ask people to repeat themselves.' Because hearing loss is commonly perceived as an older person's problem, talking about it can be emotional for people, and your loved one may feel that admitting to hearing loss is like admitting to becoming old and frail.
* Focus on the benefits of treatment and be specific. Instead of just saying 'you'll hear better,' provide real-life examples, such as 'you'll be able to hear your grandson sing in church' or 'when Uncle Bill tells that joke you love, you'll be able to hear every word.'
* Ease your loved one into the idea of testing for hearing loss. He or she may not be ready to make an appointment to see a hearing care professional. Instead, try an online hearing test, such as the one available at www.starkey.com. Answering five short questions and listening to a series of tones takes only a few minutes and can help give you both an idea of any hearing loss issues that might require professional attention.
* Explore hearing aid options together. The variety of hearing aids available at a wide range of price points can be daunting for anyone, and doubly so for someone coping with hearing loss. If the online hearing test raises concerns, schedule an appointment with a hearing professional and research hearing aid options before the visit. Your loved one may have an outdated impression of how hearing aids look and work, and their limitations for helping users hear better. Showing him or her online how small, unobtrusive and virtually invisible many modern hearing aids are may help ease concerns over wearing one. For example, Starkey's new SurfLink Mobile connects directly with the person's hearing aids, allowing users to hear better in a wide variety of circumstances, from using a mobile phone and watching TV to conversing in a noisy restaurant.
'Hearing loss doesn't have to dim the holidays for anyone, thanks to modern hearing aid technology,' Burdak says. 'Once you start the conversation and get your loved one help, you'll both be able to better enjoy the spirit of the season.'