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Hearing loss can be incredibly difficult to deal with—not just for the person experiencing it. Hard of hearing individuals frequently report that both their personal and professional relationships become strained as a result of their condition. They frequently see their relationships suffer. If you're here, it's because you don't want that to happen. You want to know what you can do to help. That begins, as these things very often do, with paying attention. 

Recognizing the Signs of Hearing Loss in a Loved One

Everyone experiences hearing loss a little differently, but there's often one common thread. Particularly with presbycusis, hearing loss happens gradually enough that a person rarely even realizes it—at least on their own. Ask yourself if you've noticed any of the following signs of hearing loss in your loved one: 
  • They never seem to listen to you or constantly ask you to repeat yourself.
  • They seem convinced you're mumbling when you speak to them. 
  • They watch your lips more than usual in a conversation or lean in the wrong direction when listening. 
  • They've started to avoid talking on the phone. 
  • It seems like they're losing their balance.
  • They're constantly turning up the volume on their media to the point that it seems excessive.
  • They seem disconnected or distant when you're out in public, especially in noisy places. 

How to Discuss the Topic of Hearing Loss

Owing at least partly to how society still stigmatizes hearing impairment, hearing loss isn't always a topic you can broach without warning. You may need to be delicate in how you go about bringing it up. Gently speak to them about it during a quiet moment.

Offer to help them with the next steps. You might suggest that the two of you take an online hearing test together, for instance. Above all, consider their feelings. You know them best and understand how to convey the message to them. 

Making Accommodations for Hearing-Impaired Family

A common reason that hearing loss breaks down personal relationships involves the unwillingness of the hearing party to be accommodating.  If you are genuine about being supportive, you cannot simply live as if nothing has changed. You need to acknowledge the reality of your loved one's hearing loss without alienating them for it. 
That doesn't require grand gestures. Most people experiencing hearing loss would rather you didn't treat them like they're somehow broken. Instead of over-helping and constantly calling attention to the condition, understand that small gestures can go a long way. 

These include: 
  • Focus more on facial expressions, visual cues, and gestures during communication.
  • Turn on closed captioning when watching media, and make sure the captions are large enough to be visible. 
  • Start incorporating other modes of communication, such as email, web chat, or SMS. 
  • Learn to be comfortable with silence. Someone who's hearing impaired has to put more effort into understanding conversation, so too much chatter may be draining to them. 
  • Just talk to them. Ask your loved one how you can make things more comfortable. 
  • Always speak clearly and distinctly. Enunciate your words, and make an effort to always face your loved one when speaking. 
  • Don't get upset when you have to repeat yourself. 
  • Consider rephrasing your speech so it's easier to understand. 
  • Be willing to learn sign language if it proves necessary. 
  • Offering support when your loved one is trying to decide on a hearing aid. 

Teaching Yourself About Hearing Loss

Lastly, don't expect your loved one to be a hearing loss encyclopedia. While it's alright to ask them questions about what they want or need, don't bombard them with questions about their condition. Instead, if you're truly serious about supporting them, educate yourself on your own time. 
Here are some resources you can use in that regard: 
  • Enroll in The National Deaf Center's Deaf 101.
  • Speak to your doctor or audiologist. 
  • Use Google to search for articles about hearing loss and hearing impairment. 
  • Join a community or support group for people whose loved ones are experiencing hearing loss. 
  • If children are involved, think about how you might educate them on the matter
  • Browse Connect Hearing's own knowledge base on hearing loss