Most people with hearing loss start their journey alone. While family members are likely the first people to notice when someone has trouble hearing, they often don’t know how to help. This was the case with my father’s hearing loss. My family knew he had trouble hearing our conversations at dinner and that he was overwhelmed by background noise at parties, but he was so stigmatized by his hearing loss that he never asked for assistance and we never figured out how we could help. As the years passed, my father became increasingly isolated from everyone. I wish we had done more to support him. If only we had known what steps to take, we could have saved much unhappiness and frustration for the whole family.
Audiologists provide much guidance and support to their clients, but few appointments regularly include family members. This is a missed opportunity to share your expertise with the client’s primary support system. Doing so could have lasting benefits for the client’s hearing and the well-being of the entire family.
Share your insights with your client’s family
Hearing loss is difficult to understand if you have not experienced it yourself. This is true even if the person with hearing loss is a family member that you see regularly. Attending audiology appointments will help educate the person’s family about the seriousness of the condition and provide tools they can use to provide support. Here are the ways you can help your client by including family.
1. Explain listening effort. My hearing loss friends sometimes complain that their families accuse them of selective hearing or not trying hard enough to hear. These statements are hurtful, especially since most people with hearing loss are expending a lot of energy each day to do what people with typical hearing take for granted — verbal communication. Including family in appointments will help them understand the severity of their family member’s hearing loss. Show them the audiogram and explain the speech banana. As an expert, your input may get through where the family member’s explanations have not.
2. Teach communication best practices. My family and I did not have the communication best practice tools we needed to help my father feel included in the family dynamic. We did not know to get his attention first before speaking or that we needed to face him and speak one at a time. Small changes in behavior can have a big impact on communication. Sharing your expertise can make all the difference.
3. Build a hearing loss support network. Hearing loss can be an emotional and frightening experience for someone newly diagnosed. My father was too stigmatized by his hearing problems to include his family in the possible solutions. I wonder if this would have been different if we had all started the journey together at his audiologist’s office. Audiologists can set realistic expectations for the work that is needed by everyone in the family.
Gather useful insight into your client’s experiences
Contact with your client’s family can also be useful for you as you work to understand your client’s particular communication challenges. The family may have insights into the situations that are easiest and hardest for your client to hear in, as well as what listening strategies they are currently using. Having the family involved in treatment planning can also help boost the likelihood of client compliance.
1. Gain first-hand observations from communication partners. The client’s family will have specific insight into what situations are most difficult for your client. They can share lifestyle changes that have taken place, as well as communication goals that your client might be less willing to discuss. The better data you can gather, the more tailored your treatment recommendations can be. Your guidance may need to include both hearing aids and other assistive listening devices or apps.
2. Learn what tools the person is using already. Family members can provide information on how well your client lipreads and what other strategies they employ in order to communicate. You client may not be aware of how much they rely on these today.
3. Provide a second set of ears. Audiology appointments, like many medical consultations are chock-full of information and jargon. This can be overwhelming for anyone dealing with a new physical issue, but for someone with hearing loss it is even harder. Listening effort, combined with high emotion, can make it difficult for people with hearing loss to remember the advice and next steps gleaned in the appointment. Having family on hand can help ensure the information sticks. A written summary of each visit can also be a big help for all involved.
For inspiration for how to include family and other communication partners in the appointment, check out the Ida Institute Communication Partner tools.
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. She recently authored, “Person-centered Care from the Patient’s Perspective,” an ebook detailing her experience with hearing loss. She hopes the book will provide audiologists with valuable insights they can use to make their practices more person-centered. Connect with Shari: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.