If you have an older parent, spouse, or other loved one who suffers from hearing loss but refuses to wear hearing aids, you’re not alone. More than 26 million Americans over age 50 suffer from hearing loss, but only about 14 percent of them wear hearing aids.
Many older people remain in denial about how bad their hearing is, or they may worry that wearing a hearing aid will make them look old or weak. Still others fret about the high cost of hearing aids, although most audiologists offer financing.
Hearing aids can help people with hearing loss fully engage with others and improve their quality of life, but only if they’ll actually wear the aids. How can you get your elderly parents to wear their hearing aids?
One way is not to enable them. When you repeat yourself or pass on information that the elderly person hasn’t heard properly, you make it easy for him or her to feel that hearing aids aren’t necessary. You can either refuse to act as your loved one’s “hearing ear,” or you can use other strategies to drive home the need for hearing aids.
Why Older People Refuse to Use Hearing Aids
Perhaps the most common reason why older people refuse to use hearing aids is that they’re in denial; they simply don’t think that their hearing is that bad. They say things like “I can hear perfectly well when you speak up and stop mumbling” or “I could hear if you’d just face me when you talk.” It doesn’t help that many people in the early stages of hearing loss can still hear deeper male voices, even though they have lost the ability to hear the higher frequencies that make up female voices.
Many older adults don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with hearing loss — they think it’s a normal part of getting older, and not something to kick up a fuss about. But vanity and fear of stigma may stop many others from seeking hearing treatment — many older people would rather incessantly ask their loved ones to repeat themselves than be seen as weak, stupid, or old because they wear a hearing aid. Finally, there’s the cost. Hearing aids can carry a price tag of $1,800 to $6,800. Health insurance and Medicare usually won’t pay, but audiologists are willing to offer financing and can help set up payment plans that most patients find surprisingly affordable. Still, the average person may suffer with hearing loss for seven to 10 years before seeking help from an audiologist.
Get Your Parents to Wear Hearing Aids
Older people can be stubborn, especially when they feel like you’re telling them what to do. Many adult children or other caregivers have been frustrated by an elderly parent, spouse, or loved one who clearly needs hearing aids, but refuses to wear them. You’ll have to be a little stubborn yourself in order to convince the older person in your life to wear hearing aids.
You need to call your loved one’s hearing problem to his or her attention. A simple way to do this is to refuse to repeat yourself, and to refuse to pass on any information the person may have missed due to hearing loss — whether it be dialogue on television or parts of conversations. When your loved one asks you to relay some missed information, simply don’t respond. Your loved one will eventually get tired of not hearing things and finally will get hearing aids.
This method is a little too harsh for many people. You might try writing down the missed words on an erasable whiteboard instead. You can also insist on setting a timer each time the person asks you to repeat yourself, and forcing him or her to wait for two minutes each time you’re asked to speak up. The frequency with which you do these things should drive home the necessity for hearing aids. If not, establish a sort of “swear jar” in which the object is to deposit money each time the person fails to hear something, instead of each time he or she swears.
If your loved one is embarrassed about being seen wearing hearing aids, it might be useful to get him or her some information about smaller, less visible hearing aids. There are some newer hearing aid models that can’t be seen at all. Some older people are much more open to wearing hearing aids when they realize that it needn’t affect their appearance.
The majority of older people with hearing loss refuse to wear hearing aids, to the constant frustration of those close to them. If you have a loved one who is suffering from hearing loss, you don’t have to resign yourself to years of shouting and repeating yourself. When you convince your loved one to get hearing aids, you’ll all live richer, fuller lives.