Her Words Fall on Deaf Ears

Your Chance to Help a Reader Out

When I asked about your most vexing problems, Alexandra commented:

My husband does not like to wear his hearing aides. I know this may sound trivial to some of your younger readers, but it does drive me nuts and maybe, for some of you, could be a problem in your future. It has become hard to have a conversation, because when I remind him to put them in, he gets irritated. I’ve noticed that I tend to shout, rather than talk at a normal volume. Then my daughters get irritated because I speak more loudly to them than before. Any suggestions?

This question made me think of my grandparents. Neither heard well with their hearing aids, and often one or both of them would not have their hearing aids in. When this was the case, I had to shout to be heard and, even then, I wasn’t sure they really got what I was saying. Both had adapted to their lack of hearing by learning how to nod and comment as a conversation unfolded, even if they couldn’t hear that conversation. It was only after one of them made an odd comment that didn’t go with the conversation at all that I would realize they couldn’t hear what I was saying.

So I feel your pain.

My best advice is to seek understanding. Ask why he prefers not to wear his hearing aides. It could be that he finds them uncomfortable. It also could be that he finds the silence comforting. He also may not realize just how much conversation he’s missing. It’s possible that, by seeking understanding, you might arrive at a solution.

If not, then perhaps ask him to help you solve the problem. Keep in mind that the problem isn’t, “You never wear your hearing aides.” Your real problem is that sometimes you want to tell him something important, but he can’t hear you. Ask him to help you solve that problem. See what he comes up with.

Readers: What advice do you have for Alexandra? How would you solve this problem?




13 comments… add one

  • Kathy April 16, 2012, 9:36 am

    I’m with Alisa on this one. Ask why he doesn’t wear them. Maybe he needs new hearing aids. I have hearing problems and I know it’s frustrating to a lot of people, but I’m not yet in need of a hearing aid, per my ENT doctor.

    You can also just write on a piece of paper what you want to say. Maybe he’ll find it easier just to put in his hearing aid.

  • Jennifer Margulis April 16, 2012, 11:46 am

    This sounds very frustrating to me. I know several other older people who hate to wear their hearing aids. I think getting some help with this would be one way to tackle the problem. Maybe Alexandra and her husband could go to the doctor together and see if there is a more compatible hearing aid that would help. And also make an appointment to do a one-time session with a smart therapist, where she could share why it frustrates her and he could share why he won’t wear them? Definitely some third party help would be beneficial. Alisa — maybe you should start doing phone consultations?!

    I wonder, too, if she could start communicating with him in writing. Instead of talking loudly, she could slip him a note. She could ASSUME he can’t hear her. And act accordingly. Then when he is actually wearing the aids, she will appreciate it (since her default assumption will be that he does not have them on…)

    Jennifer Margulis´s last blog post ..Arrested Midwife Says She Won’t Deliver Babies in Indiana Anymore

  • Rosemary April 16, 2012, 12:57 pm

    I have seen this situation in a lot of people. One elderly relative refused to get hearing aids for many years, and then when he did get them, he often didn’t wear them. As a result, he was often left out of the conversation. In fact, some people simply took advantage of the situation to deliberately exclude him by speaking in soft voices so he wouldn’t even know comments were being made. Not very nice, but it was the result of their long-standing frustration with him.

    Alisa has a good point when she says that he may find the silence comforting. With my relative and with a few others, it often seemed as if they actually preferred not to hear everything around them. Perhaps it absolved them from the need to constantly respond to other people. Perhaps it just made it easier to take a spontaneous nap.

    I don’t think shouting is a good idea. It’s annoying to everyone else, and it makes it too easy for him to keep on doing what he’s doing. Maybe when he sees everyone else laughing and having a good time without him he will want to find out what he’s missing.

    In any case, asking him to explain why he doesn’t wear the aids, and asking him to help solve the communication problem are good ideas.
    Rosemary´s last blog post ..Special Presents

  • KimW April 16, 2012, 8:02 pm

    My immediate reaction was right with Alisa. Why doesn’t he like them? I have a friend who refuses to wear her hearing aids – much to the annoyance of her husband. The original set was poorly fitted and the sound quality distressing. The comfort of silence rings true also.

    I thought of writing as an alternate form of communication, specifically email and texting. This may be more challenging to some people. I’m not terribly quick with pen and paper but able to converse freely via email because I type faster than I talk. Email has proven a great tool for sharing thought provoking dialogue in my house. I would quickly recommend that this frustrated wife schedule a hearing aide date to follow up on the written conversation.

    That was my last idea – hearing aid dates. If hubby like the silence, but wife doesn’t maybe they should set a time daily for verbal communication.

  • Mr. Cellophane April 16, 2012, 9:01 pm

    According to my father, my father-in-law, and many of my patients, hearing aides are great as long as there is only one source of sound, but if there is any background noise, or if more than one person is talking, everything is equally amplified, nothing is clear and they are worse than not being able to hear.
    Additionally, my father-in-law who is extremely (ahem) frugal, doesn’t want to “wear them out” and constantly complains about the price of batteries and how often they must be replaced.
    When one of them asks “what did you say” my stock reply has become a shout of “put your hearing aides in!”

  • Jessica April 17, 2012, 2:46 am

    After seeking to understand, you could try reaching a compromise as one if the potential solutions- part of the day he commits to wearing them so you can converse. Another part of the day he has his time without the hearing aids. Maybe once a week he doesn’t where them at all.

  • Treven April 17, 2012, 9:02 am

    It doesn’t sound trivial at all, Alexandra! It is immensely frustrating to not be able to hear and to not be able to be heard, but it is so hard to raise our voices without feeling like we’re shouting, or being accused of shouting, which carries the negative associations of anger.
    So many great suggestions above. I’ll just add one point, building upon Jennifer’s suggestion that you assume he can’t hear.
    What if he were officially, totally deaf?
    My friend’s daughter was born deaf.
    When that happens many things in your life have to change. Communication cannot any longer happen without eye contact; it can’t happen room to room and on the fly. People have to be together, near each other, face-to-face, to communicate. It takes an adjustment. Communications big and small take more time. But that’s not entirely a bad thing, is it?
    I admit, I myself would have great trouble with it, though. I have trouble with change and my life is too hurried. I’ve been trying to never shout at my kids, but they can’t hear me from the kitchen to the living room unless I raise my voice, so I’ve been making an effort to communicate with them only when we’re together in one room. It requires an adjustment, though, and I’m very much not there yet. It’s especially hard to rush people out of the house on time for school that way, for instance!
    One wise reader pointed out that a common problem with hearing aids is background noise. If you and your husband went to a quieter room together to communicate, face-to-face, communication with or without the aids would probably improve. To initiate the move to a quieter space, perhaps you could rely on physical contact, which could be a nice accommodation. I imagine if we all had to put a gentle hand on our spouse before speaking to them, some relationships would benefit from that.
    If, however, he’s getting irritated at the request to put in his hearing aids because he believes he doesn’t actually need them but that the world needs to speak up and learn to enunciate better (as my father does! :-) then it’s probably time for a reality check in a marriage counselor’s office!

  • Rose Byrd April 17, 2012, 10:47 am

    I would do exactly as you did,Alisa: advise Alexandra to enlist the input and teamwork of her hard-of-hearing husband in solving this problem. I have a dear friend/neighbor who is older and who does not always remember to wear his hearing aide for meetings. We just have a conversation via notepaper about it!
    Rose Byrd´s last blog post ..Inspiration: Building Bridges…

  • Alexandra April 17, 2012, 8:57 pm

    So many great ideas on how to deal with this problem! Thanks, Alisa, and thank you everyone who offered a suggestion.

  • MyKidsEatSquid April 17, 2012, 9:46 pm

    Your advice is spot on–enlisting her husband’s help sounds like a wise approach. Maybe he does like time with silence. I know my grandmother doesn’t like to admit that her hearing isn’t very good so she misses out on conversations a lot of the time.
    MyKidsEatSquid´s last blog post ..Thai coconut soup

  • nhow April 25, 2012, 4:08 pm

    Same problem with my husband who’s recently been tested and fitted for hearing aids (both sides). He wore them once or twice and said he could hear a lot better but then stopped wearing the, saying everything sounded ‘tinny.’ I’m very frustrated by our problems with communicating (or lack of), lots of non sequitors, having to repeat and speak loudly, and worrying that he’s tuning me and the world out and missing a lot.

    I don’t want to impose on him if the hearing aids aren’t comfortable but the communication is pretty bad. Perhaps I will ask him (as suggested above) to wear them when we’re at home together (quiet background except for tv) or at least at dinner. The audiologist did suggest that he wear them regularly for an hour or two minimum a day to get used to them. He’s worn them only twice since he got them (over a month ago).

  • nhow June 15, 2012, 1:10 pm

    I asked my husband (who had profound hearing loss and refuses to wear his hearing aids) why he didn’t wear them. He said everything sounded ‘tinny.’ It’s really isolating not to be able to communicate with him. He sits in front of the tv and reads his paper while I’m sat there next to him. No talk and when I initiate something he usually doesn’t hear me or mishears. I asked him several months ago if he would at least wear them at dinner. He did once, then stopped. I have told him how I feel. That we are missing out in our relationship because of this but he gets defensive and won’t talk about it or do anything. Don’t know what else to do.

    • nhow June 15, 2012, 1:12 pm

      a typo in my last post…I said ‘had’ a profound hearing loss…should have been ‘has’ a profound hearing loss.


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