Hey dad... Excuse me?! Are you listening?

Has your dad shown symptoms that tells you he finds it harder and harder to hear? Get tips and advise about how to talk about hearing loss with a loved one.

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How to approach a difficult conversation with your dad

Is your dad finding it hard to hear? It can be a difficult topic to bring up but having a conversation about hearing loss with a family member is an act of kindness. Most hearing-impaired people tend to ignore the problem, and this can lead to severe consequences in terms of physical health problems as well as social isolation. Here is some advice to help you through a difficult conversation.

Does your dad need a hearing aid?

In recent years, your dads hearing has declined, and your mother finds it hard to get through to him.  

When the whole family gets together, he disappears into his own world and can’t really keep up with the subtle nuances of the conversation.

In fact, there are many things he doesn’t seem to comprehend and it’s making him short tempered. You’ve also noticed that he gets easily annoyed when he spends time with your kids.

He might ask his grandchildren about school but very quickly the conversation goes off track and the kids give up trying to communicate with grandad who says things out of context. To them it seems like he isn’t really listening, but the fact is that he probably just finds it hard to hear.

The importance of hearing
Psychotherapist Margrethe Vadmand has many clients who struggle with the new family roles that arise, as their parents grow old.

In her practice, she experiences how hearing loss affects both our social life and our close relations.

”Conversation and the ability to listen is the cornerstone of social interaction. Other people easily perceive a person who is unable to grasp everything that is going on at the dinner table, as a bit slow. ‘Doesn’t he get it?’ For many hearing-impaired people, this is partly their own fault.
She explains that rather than face the embarrassment of saying “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” many people just nod and pretend to hear, at the risk of agreeing or disagreeing at the wrong time.

”Some people find it too tiring to keep repeating things or speak in a loud voice to accommodate a family member who is hard of hearing. As a result, the hearing-impaired person becomes disconnected from the conversation.

Being part of a social gathering without being a part of the conversation can be a very lonely place. Humans are tribal beings with a strong urge to fit in. Whether chosen or imagined, being an outsider is painful.

Refusing to acknowledge the problem
For an adult son or daughter, it is often a sensitive issue when your parent needs a hearing aid. Many people who have tried talking to a parent about hearing loss have been met with anger and resentment. 

Why is this the case? Psychotherapist Margrethe Vadmand offers an answer to this question:

“Hearing loss is just another symptom of ageing that threatens to limit our lifestyle as we grow older. It is difficult to accept that you are no longer the energetic and active person you used to be twenty years ago. Losing your hearing is a big loss. Because of the social consequences, a hearing-impaired person will often retreat from social interactions. And ultimately, a hearing loss may unconsciously activate a fear of death.”

It is also a significant turning point between you and your parent, especially if your parent refuses to acknowledge the physical limitation.

“As parents age and become weaker, they need their children in new ways. This may raise difficult dilemmas such as respecting the privacy of your parents versus interfering when necessary”, explains the psychotherapist. 
” However, the adult child should never have to ’parent’ his or her own parents. It is important to address concerns with respect. This means, that adult children should be honest without being condescending or judgmental towards a parent.”

A compassionate approach
“If you are planning a difficult conversation with your dad about getting his hearing checked, it is important that you approach the subject with compassion”, Margrethe Vadmand emphasises.
“When we spend time with the family we grew up with, there is a risk that we fall back into old behavioural patterns. Otherwise, well-functioning adults can act like seven-year old’s in the company of their parents and behave in an unreasonable or demanding manner. The usual boundaries and common courtesies of social interaction are often different in relation to our parents and siblings.”

“If your parent is suffering from hearing loss, it is easy to get annoyed at him, or perhaps even make fun of it. It is important to take a step back and remember that what feels frustrating to you is much worse for the afflicted parent. Hearing is an important part of life and when it is weakened it is important to offer help and support.”

How to address the problem
Psychotherapist Margrethe Vadmand recommends the following approach:

Recall a few recent examples when your father had difficulty hearing what was being said. Sit down together with a cup of coffee or something similar. Take his hand or put your hand gently on his arm. Studies have shown that a difficult conversation with a loved one feels much less confrontational when we touch each other.

In other words, physical touch during a conversation will help your parent to feel cared for rather than under attack. 

Say it as it is. Rely on facts and don’t paint an overly negative picture: “Dad, I’ve noticed that your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be.” Then add a few examples of situations where he couldn’t hear what was said or turned the volume of the television up way too high.

Ask if he has noticed situations when he found it difficult to hear. ” I think it would be a good idea to get your hearing tested to find out if you need a hearing aid”. Look at some pictures on-line together, to get an idea of what a hearing aid looks like and get rid of potential misconceptions that hearing aids are big and clumsy. Most importantly, remember to be respectful and listen to any arguments against your suggestion.
Written by Charlotte Haase
Don't worry! You are not the only one who finds it hard to help someone you care about come to terms with their hearing difficulties.

Want to get even more tips and tricks on how to start the conversation about hearing loss?
Then download the 30 pages free guide below.

What do I get in the free brochure?
Tips to change the psychology around the difficult conversation about hearing loss.

Simple tests you can do at home to test your loved one's hearing 

5 practical tips to improve the everyday conversation

5 facts about the social impact of a hearing loss

Surprising facts about hearing aid technology

and much more...

4 tips on how to better relate to ageing parents

1. Get the timing right

Find a time when neither of you feel under pressure or irritable. A good atmosphere is the best starting point for a difficult conversation to ensure that you both feel open and positive. It is important not to build the conversation on feelings of frustration. Try bringing his favourite cake or something that will help to create a positive vibe. Turn off the TV and the radio and make sure to find a time without the presence of young children.

2. Put yourself in his shoes

To begin with, show understanding of the fact that this is a difficult and vulnerable situation. Imagine how you would feel if you needed a hearing aid. (Maybe you can relate it to how long it took you to get your first reading glasses because you thought it was a passing problem, and because the very thought of reading glasses made you feel old.

3. Explain how it affects you

Avoid blaming and do not list all the times he should have realized that he has a problem. Base the conversation on your love for him and on how the problem affects you. Tell him that you miss talking to him at social gatherings and that it doesn’t have to be that way. Also, mention ex. that your son who visits once a week with his family would like to be able to keep having the valuable chats with him even when it is a bit noisy with the whole family around.

4. Offer practical help

Pointing out a problem and then leaving your parent to deal with it on his or her own, often isn’t enough. If your parent has reached a certain age and feels overwhelmed by technology, then go with him to see the specialist and help him adjust the hearing aid when the time comes.

Hearing loss is just another symptom of ageing that threatens to limit our lifestyle as we grow older. It is difficult for your dad to accept that he is no longer the energetic and active person he used
to be twenty years ago. Losing your hearing is a big loss.