Can You Hear Me Now? How to Talk to Your Parents About Hearing Loss – CNET

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Adulthood brings many changes to our relationships — few more so than our relationship with our parents. As older adults face the physical and mental challenges of aging, many new questions arise for their children regarding how to ensure their parents remain healthy and safe. 

Hearing loss can be a particularly touchy subject, and one that many adults are hesitant to address with their aging parents. Changes in hearing can affect many aspects of a parent’s well-being, and studies show that a third of US adults between the ages of 65 and 74 — and nearly half of those 75 and older — have some form of hearing loss. With more Americans turning 65 in 2024 than any year before, hearing issues are becoming a pressing concern for many of their children. 

If you’re concerned that hearing loss is or soon will be an issue for your parents, it’s imperative to find a way to broach the topic and express your concern. It doesn’t have to be a scary conversation. Here are some tips for how to talk to your parents about hearing loss.

Read more: Best OTC Hearing Aids

The risks of untreated hearing loss

Senior Man Holding His Auricle With His Hand To Hear Well

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Age-related hearing loss carries a host of health risks, the most serious of which is an increased likelihood of developing dementia. Research by Johns Hopkins University found that even slight hearing loss doubled patients’ risk of dementia, while moderate and severe hearing loss increased their chances three- and fivefold, respectively.

Additional research shows that as hearing declines, life expectancy decreases. One study published in The Lancet showed that those with moderate untreated hearing loss were half as likely to live another 10 years than those with no hearing issues.

Even if hearing loss doesn’t affect a person’s memory or life span, it can be devastating for their overall well-being. Hearing problems can lead to a greater sense of isolation as those who have difficulty hearing find it difficult to keep up with conversations. This can cause them to withdraw from social interactions, furthering their sense of isolation. This may explain why hearing loss is associated with higher rates of depression in US adults.

Dan Troast, Au.D., an audiologist at HearUSA, sees hearing impairment’s most destructive effects in relationships. It can take someone out of life’s most cherished moments with children, grandchildren and friends.

“Communication is so key to a relationship, so you lose out on some [important moments],” he says. “We only have a finite amount of time on this Earth. We want to take advantage of it and be able to hear what’s going on.”

Read more: 10 Tips to Lower Your Risk of Hearing Loss

How to start a conversation about hearing loss with your parents

Despite the urgency of the conversation, Troast understands why adults find it difficult to address the issue of hearing loss with their parents.

“You get to a point where it starts to shift to where we start taking care of our parents,” he says. “And that transition sometimes is a little bit difficult for people to navigate, depending on the type of parents they have.”

Nonetheless, he emphasizes that helping a parent become aware of their situation and embrace their need for help could make a major difference in their life, not to mention in their relationship. To help you take that step, he emphasizes a few things you can do.

1. Look for early warning signs

Senior mother talking with adult daughter on sofa

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Hearing loss doesn’t have to result in negative outcomes. With early intervention and today’s hearing aid technology, it’s possible for someone with hearing loss to maintain relationships and participate socially. 

For the best possible outcome, you need to catch the problem early. Troast points to signals like louder TV volume, mishearing comments from others and withdrawal from conversations and activities as some of the most obvious red flags.

Loved ones are often in a better position to spot early warning signs of hearing loss than the person who has it. All these early indicators build gradually, making them hard to notice or easier to excuse in yourself. That means adult children have an important role to play in helping their parents spot these early signs. 

2. Cultivate empathy for your parents

If you do notice some indicators of hearing loss, resist the temptation to jump right in and start pointing them out. Before you speak, Troast emphasizes, put yourself in your parent’s shoes and imagine how you’d like to be addressed in this situation. 

“Understand that it is your parent’s decision,” Troast says. “They’re going to be the ones that have to put the hearing aids on every day.” 

Realize that a parent’s resistance is likely about much more than a fear of finagling with hearing aids. They may be uneasy about losing their independence or shaken by signs that their health is deteriorating. A little empathy may help disarm these defenses and set a positive tone for the conversation. 

3. Focus on relationships

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As serious as some of the risks of untreated hearing loss are, Troast cautions against using fear as the primary motivator. Rather, he suggests focusing on your relationship.

That may mean pointing out the things you enjoy about being able to spend time and communicate with them. Or how much you love watching them interact with their grandkids. Emphasize how you want to maintain those connections and enjoy your time together for as long as possible. 

If they respond with denial or stubbornly insist they’re fine, that may be the time to share some of the research about where the path of hearing loss can lead but don’t start there.

4. Share specific examples

When you do bring up your concerns, it’s important to come prepared with examples.

“Quite often with hearing loss, if you’re missing it, you’re not even aware that you’re missing it,” Troast says.

In other words, Mom or Dad are likely oblivious to some of the signs you’ve noticed. Don’t just tell them you’re worried about their hearing; be specific. Share trends you’ve observed and how those may be early warning signs you’d rather not ignore.

5. Help them take the first step

Finally, reassure them that you’re only asking them to get evaluated. This isn’t a commitment to wearing hearing aids — it’s simply a chance to test their hearing and see what the doctors find. 

Troast also notes that you can also reassure them that, even if they do end up needing hearing aids, the technology has improved drastically. Today’s devices are a far cry from the ones they may have seen their parents wear. They’re easier to use, more discreet and more effective. Reassure them that, whatever the outcome, you can find a solution they’re comfortable with.

How parents can be more open to discussing hearing loss

Otolaryngologist doctor checking mature woman's ear using otoscope.

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This is a dialog between two parties, and the children aren’t the only ones who may need tips on how to approach it. 

If you’re an aging parent, you can take steps to be more open to conversations about hearing loss. Troast encourages all adults to be attentive and look for warning signs themselves so they’re less likely to be taken aback when their children approach them. He also urges parents to remember that if their kids bring it up, it’s almost always because they care and want to help.

Most of all, Troast emphasizes how life-changing hearing aids can be. 

“More often than not, the response I get from somebody who does get hearing aids is, ‘Wow, I wish I would have done this sooner,'” he says.

Start the conversation

Conversations about hearing loss can be intimidating, especially when they involve your parents. Stepping into those conversations could help your parents stay mentally strong, physically healthy and socially engaged for many more years. That alone is worth the effort. 

If you approach the topic with care and sensitivity, emphasizing your desire to maintain a strong relationship, you may find that Mom or Dad are more than willing to hear you out. 

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