How to talk to a loved one about suspected hearing loss

What to do if a loved one has hearing loss 

Around one in six people are affected by hearing loss, so chances are we all know someone who is living with it. Hearing loss doesn’t just affect the person who has it – their husbands, wives, daughters, sons, grandchildren, friends and wider family are often affected too.

But it can be difficult to have a conversation with our loved ones about hearing loss, or even know what the right thing to do is, particularly as it is such a personal thing. We have some top tips to help you if you find yourself in this situation.

Recognising the signs of hearing loss in others

Often hearing loss is gradual and even the person affected may not notice the signs straight away. In fact, you may notice a change before your loved one does. The sooner it is spotted, the better, as treatment is more beneficial if started sooner.

According to Emily Balmer, Head of Audiology at The Hearing Suite[1], one of the biggest indicators is small changes in behaviour and feedback from family and friends is really important.

If you notice signs  such as being asked to repeat yourself, or if the person is struggling to keep up with conversations, misunderstanding what people are saying, and listening to music or watching TV at a higher volume, it could point to hearing loss.

It can be tiring and stressful for your loved one to concentrate intensely while listening so it’s important to look out for signs and check on how they are feeling more generally.

If you spot the signs…

Talk to your loved one about your concerns[i]. It is a delicate and personal subject, and it can feel like a difficult conversation to have as people often don’t want to admit that there is a problem and it can be upsetting for them. But as a family member or friend, of course it’s natural that you want to help.

There are ways to have the conversation sensitively, putting the person at ease and helping them recognise that things can be much better with the right help and support:

  • Choose an appropriate place and time to talk – ideally somewhere quiet and private, a safe space.
  • Be empathetic and understand their concerns – let them express their feelings and reassure them.
  • Be compassionate, not accusatory – come at it from their perspective.
  • Encourage them to visit a hearing professional, offer to go along with them to get their hearing checked and support them with any treatment.
  • Focus on the benefits – and the positive outcomes of doing something to address the problem.

Communicating with someone with hearing loss

There are some simple things you can do to make things easier for people who have hearing loss and Action on Hearing Loss[ii] has some handy tips to help you communicate clearly with them.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, video calling is a great way to stay connected and can be easier for people with hearing loss than a phone call. The guidance below can be adapted for a video call too.

  • Lipreading – the ability to recognise the lip shapes, gestures and facial movements of someone when they are speaking to better understand what they are saying. Bear it in mind and try to speak clearly, using normal lip movements and facial expressions. It’s a good idea to turn your face towards theirs so that they can see your lip movements more easily.
  • Before you start speaking – if you can, try to find a place away from loud noises and other distractions and somewhere that has good lighting. Don’t stand too far away and make sure you have the person’s attention. 
  • In conversation – don’t feel like you have to shout as it can be uncomfortable for the person you’re speaking to. It’s best not to turn or look away and don’t cover your mouth with your hands.  Try to say things in a different way if they don’t understand what you’ve said. Don’t say “it doesn’t matter”.
  • Ask – if you are struggling to know the best way to approach communication, ask the person you are talking to. Everyone is different and what works for one person, might not for someone else.

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" can feel like a difficult conversation to have as people often don’t want to admit that there is a problem and it can be upsetting for them. But as a family member or friend, of course it’s natural that you want to help."