Does my mom have any hearing aid options?
December 26, 2012 6:38 PM   Subscribe

How can I get my mom to consider a hearing aid? And would a hearing aid even work for her?

About 18 years ago, my mother had surgery on one of her ears to remove a tumor. They got it all but said it might harm her hearing. As it turns out, it rendered her deaf on that side. She makes do fairly ok with just the one hearing ear but as the years go by, I've noticed that she has had more and more trouble.

Over the last few years, I've tried to talk to her about it. First off, I asked if she told people she was deaf in one ear. She does not like to tell people. She informed me that she hears well enough in the one ear. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Frequently she appears to be ignoring people, or being willfully obtuse to what they are saying or just odd in how she answers a question because she doesn't hear or hears partially and responds in a strange way. She sometimes talks over people because she doesn't know someone else is talking.

She was in real estate for awhile (still is, in a limited way, she's mostly retired) and I think it hampered her ability to do the job well and she was not as successful as she could have been. Can you imagine saying to a realtor, "This roof looks pretty bad, do you know the age?" And having her say in response, "Have you seen the beautiful kitchen?"

I asked her at one point if she had looking into a hearing aid and she said she had but that it wouldn't do her any good.

So, first off, anyone with experience with hearing aids? If she has one good (or fairly good, considering age) ear, would any kind of hearing aid help her get more of a range or does it just not work that way?

And, if a hearing aid would do her good, how can I approach this again? Her father had hearing aids as long as I can remember and in some ways they were kind of frustrating. He used to turn them off when he didn't feel like engaging with the family (kind of funny unless you're the one being tuned out) and he was pretty much deaf late in life and constantly losing his aids. I wonder if my mom has some issues about hearing aids that are being dredged up here in her reluctance to try them out.

I really wish she would just tell people with a smile, "Oh sorry, you got my bad ear, try again?" That would make things so much better.
posted by amanda to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
While I can't help out with the willingness to wear a hearing aid (my elderly grandmother adamantly refuses to wear the one she got), whether or not a hearing aid will be able to help your mother is probably an answer only a doctor can answer, via results of a hearing test. We recently brought my grandmother to a clinic to get her hearing tested and it turned out she was eligible for a free hearing aid from the government (we're in Montreal, Canada) based on the degradation of her hearing.

A hearing test is almost certainly the only way to see if a hearing aid is even an option. If she's hesitant, you can always tell her "well, if the test shows a hearing aid won't help you, I'll drop it". Or something like that. Good luck to you! (And I'll be watching this thread so I can get any advice about my grandmother's reluctance to wear hers!)
posted by juliebug at 6:48 PM on December 26, 2012

Could you say to her, "Mom, it really stresses me out to talk with you and not be sure you're hearing me correctly. It stresses me out even more to think that your hearing is affecting your ability to be a successful realtor. Please, from the bottom of my heart, won't you please go be screened for a hearing aid with me?"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:52 PM on December 26, 2012

Whether or not a hearing aid would help her depends one which inner ear structures were damaged and which are still intact. Unfortunately, that's nothing we can answer for you.

If you bring it up with her, maybe tell her about the improvements you think it would make in her life. Hearing aids can be frustrating and hard to get used to, so she may need some concrete ideas of how they could make her life better.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:52 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, first off, anyone with experience with hearing aids? If she has one good (or fairly good, considering age) ear, would any kind of hearing aid help her get more of a range or does it just not work that way?

I've had hearing aids since I was five. One of my ears is much better than the other, though I have aids in both. Having one will almost certainly help her, although it's likely that one ear will still be better than the other. The "range" is highly dependent on her specific situation; I hear very high frequencies just fine, but I can't understand someone with a low, gravelly voice.

She's probably got some amount of shame and denial going on here - this is an obvious manifestation of getting older. Maybe you can relate if you've got gray hair, or lost some hair, or gained weight, or needed bifocals. Please be patient with her - she is not trying to frustrate you, I promise. Even with hearing aids, I still have to ask people to repeat themselves, and I sometimes have to bluff my way through conversations.

She said she looked into a hearing aid - did she really have her hearing checked? Does she have a ENT doctor? Can he or she refer her to an audiologist? Perhaps a neutral person with more authority than you might have more of an impact. If an audiologist is able to demonstrate one, she may go for it. Meanwhile, be gentle. Sit on her good side. Don't yell. Face her when you're talking.

Several other factors that may contribute to her stubbornness: They are expensive. Insurance will not cover them. They're easy to lose. If you forget and wear them in the shower or in the rain, you've just blown hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. They take some getting used to - the first time I heard a refrigerator I was all WHAT THE HECK IS THAT NOISE.

Be patient and remember that this is not a personal affront - by admitting she's losing her hearing, she's admitting she's getting older, and she's now keenly, viscerally aware that her other bodily functions will also deteriorate at some point.
posted by desjardins at 7:04 PM on December 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes hearing aids will help.

There are a variety of options, all which essentially take the sound heard on the deaf side and transmit it to the hearing side. This can be done invasively (eg with an implanted device that sends the sound waves through your skull bone from the nonhearing side to the hearing side) or non-invasively (eg by wearing two aids, one which transmits and one which receives).

Modern hearing aids are pretty incredible. Really good sound, virtually invisible, cool options for interfacing with cell phones etc. And in many places it is a strongly regulated market with legally mandated trial/return periods etc.

Go see a reputable audiologist (ie connected to an ENT practice, rather than at the mall). The device may end up being relatively expensive but it is very much worth looking into.
posted by sanderman at 7:06 PM on December 26, 2012

some concrete ideas of how they could make her life better.

A partial list from my POV:

1. I know what's going on in conversations and I'm less isolated
2. People enjoy talking to me because they don't have to yell
3. I can do my job better/at all
4. I don't have to turn up the TV absurdly loud and disrupt other people
5. It's much safer to drive because I can hear other cars and bicycle bells
6. I'm safer in my home because I can hear if someone opened the door, etc.

I could go on and on. They're absolutely the most important thing I own.
posted by desjardins at 7:09 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

christinethesip I think the OP is talking about a hearing aid for the good ear, which she used to make do with but now isn't able to....

OP, we've dealt with this situation. Nothing we said made a difference. What worked was having him go to the doctor for another issue, and when she realized he couldn't hear what she was saying, she referred him for a hearing test, and he went for it, and of course got diagnosed with moderate hearing loss and got hearing aids. Now he refuses to wear them because he says "it sounds like you are shouting into bullhorns!" But I think we are slowly making progress....
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:22 PM on December 26, 2012

Several other factors that may contribute to her stubbornness: They are expensive. Insurance will not cover them. They're easy to lose.

I have an older friend with hearing aids and she's found that our local vocational rehab service will help significantly with the cost of her aids if she needs them for work (which she does). Another person I work with is in high school and uses them and has a bunch of bluetooth gadgets that help him with his, one of which just works with his iphone (using bluetooth) so he can put his phone where the thing is that he wants to hear (television, radio, teacher in a classroom) and it will transmit the sounds to a receiver. It's made dealing with things like telephones significantly easier because the phone will work with his hearing aids and not against them. The technology has improved a lot since your grandfather's time so it might be worth opening a conversation about it that way. desjardins really has it though, try to figure out what will make hearing aids a genuine option for her and try to approach at that angle.
posted by jessamyn at 7:34 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Insurance may cover it - I believe my father's are partially covered by his insurance. Double check that.

My dad's are amazing. You can barely even see them - truly, they are almost invisible. It might help your mom to know that? They are very very different now than they used to be.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 7:39 PM on December 26, 2012

I just talked to my mum about it. Told her that the hearing loss was getting serious and she should have her ears tested. It used to drive her crazy that her father never got his hearing tested, so I pulled that card on her too. She was good humoured but adamant about not wearing hearing aids, but recently she was diagnosed as having small tumours in her ears and there isn't much that can be done about them, so now she cheerfully tells people she has a problem (she loves a little drama, so this has actually helped).

Sounds like you have a good relationship with your mum. Keep bringing it up in sweet and compassionate ways.
posted by salishsea at 8:08 PM on December 26, 2012

I have two relatives with single-sided hearing loss. They got pretty excited about trying this but it turned out that one was too young and the other too old (well, not too old per se, but old enough that she has some hearing loss in the good ear and they say that hearing loss is enough to preclude the use of the system).

Nevertheless it might be worth looking into as it is relatively inexpensive (about $1500 if I recall which is pretty inexpensive in hearing aid-land) and looked worth trying to us.
posted by flug at 9:02 PM on December 26, 2012

If she is not willing (or able to benefit from) wearing a hearing aid, you should work with her on other ways to compensate. My former in-law was deaf in one ear. He always sat at the table, no matter home or at friends or at restaurant so that his good ear was toward the majority of the table. (If it was his left ear damaged, he sat all the way to the left of the table so his right ear was toward most people). He took a few lessons in lip reading. His family was also a big support. His wife had a signal to him when he was talking over someone. He also would repeat the question. "Did you ask how long the pie?" If that was wrong, since he was sort of a wise guy, he would answer, "When you get to the pie question, it is 30 minutes."

To me as an outsider, when I first met him, I could not tell he had the issue because he had learned so many coping techniques. My only concern was for when he was driving. I was worried he could not hear emergency vehicles or people honking at him. While probably true, deaf people can and do drive so them learn to deal with that.

He had a special phone that would flash when ringing and had the ability to turn the volume on the hearing part of the handset up to airplane takeoff decibels, but he could hold regular conversations with the grandkids.

He also learned to use it to his advantage. He would simply tune out certain relatives at those family gatherings no one wants to be at, he would smile and tell a clerk or restaurant hostess he was hard of hearing when they gave him news he didn't want to hear and ask them to repeat it then say very loudly, "Did you really say it was going to be 20 minutes for a table?" He would make a small scene and suddenly he would be seated at the first available table.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:27 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can get her to go for testing, Costco offers it for free. We recently bought hearing aids at Costco for my spouse after having his hearing tested at the ENT specialist's by an audiologist. The Costco hearing aids were half the cost and better quality than those offered in the physician's office. Next time, Costco will do it all for us. Go Costco!
posted by summerstorm at 10:09 PM on December 26, 2012

Just personal experience: lost about a third of my hearing very young, learned all the coping mechanisms mentioned above, then started losing more hearing, seemed like more and more people were murmuring. Decided to get hearing aides, so excited! After 2-1/2 months, I returned them. They can do amazing things with hearing aids today: virtually invisible, completely comfortable, digital magic (tune out background noise in restaurants! keep a record of what I hear so I can go in and have them auto-adjusted!). But still -- they couldn't adjust the high frequencies enough to allow me to go to the theater and hear both singing and speaking. I'm going to try again in a couple of years; my hearing will have changed and probably the technology will be even better.

According to the head of the speech and audiology department at the University of Washington, hearing aids benefit only about 50% of the people who try them, for reasons that are not clearly understood.

Agreeing with summerstorm about Costco: go Costgo! A very thorough, hour and a half hearing test for free (by a registered audiologist), unlimited visits to adjust the aids, and 3 months to try them out, with a complete refund for the asking. And cheaper than most places, too, although we're still talking $$$$.

As to how to convince her to try -- you know her better than we do. But you can emphasize that it's not some kind of permanent commitment. Give it a try, see what you think, if they work for you, great, if not, return 'em. Can you go with her? Is she ashamed? Can you make a list of people with hearing aids? (Bill Clinton, Mick Jagger ... come back here and ask people for names)

Here's hoping she'll try, and they'll improve her life! And maybe me, too, one of these days.
posted by kestralwing at 10:49 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

3 months to try them out, with a complete refund for the asking.

Verify in your state, but a trial period is a legal requirement for hearing aids. She can return them wherever she buys them within a certain period.
posted by desjardins at 4:18 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

What worked in our family for the willingness thing was grand kids. When my dad realized he was missing everything they said, he got one.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:43 AM on December 27, 2012

I learned in grad school for speech therapy that the average person waits 7 years(!) before getting a hearing aid once they start noticing symptoms. The reasons are many--shame of getting older, price, believing they won't help, denial of hearing loss.

If you could convince your mom to get her hearing tested for free (at Costco or a university clinic or health fair) then you would at least have a starting point for her to consider them.

Hearing aids can help A LOT of people, but not everyone. Age-related hearing loss is usually sensorineural, where the sound becomes somewhat distorted as it is transferred from mechanical energy of sound to a neurological connection that your brain interprets. For some people, a hearing aid makes this distorted sound louder, but does not change the distortion.

If you can convince her to get her hearing tested, you can then have that concrete info to bridge into the touchy-freely stuff of how you want to see her be able to maintain conversations with yourself and others, how it is frustrating talking to her and yelling, etc. There are even aural rehabilitation therapists who work with audiologists to help people with aids/hearing loss advocate for themselves to ask people to rephrase/repeat what they couldn't hear, or to tell people up front that they have hearing loss so that others will adjust their speech and be aware.

Finally, if you can get her to the audiologist, they have some pretty cool and tiny hearing aids. A lot of boomers are going through hearing loss, and they typically don't want to be thought of as old. There are teeny tiny aids that are well hidden, but there are also leopard and zebra print ones and hot pink ones and ones with sports logos on them.

Good luck to you and your mom!
posted by shortyJBot at 6:58 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

What several people said above - if you do manage to persuade her to try, be aware of your own expectations.

When I was training as a speech therapist (hello shortyJBot!) they made us wear hearing aids for an afternoon and go out to the shops in small groups. It was the most disorienting horrible experience. My grandfather's experience is the same - he'll wear them to watch TV but takes them out when he's in a room with other people and any kind of background noise because it's just not helpful for him.

Your mother could have tried them before and decided they're not for her. Of course she may not have tried them for long enough to learn to use them, but that's a hard process.

Good lucky!
posted by kadia_a at 11:40 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

FYI (late response I know), but we finally talked my Mom into getting a hearing aid. As mentioned above, so has no hearing at all in one ear, but in addition she has the ordinary hearing loss that comes with age (mid 70s).

Anyway, she LOVES it.

So, definitely worth trying again, even if your relative has tried them before. In the 10 years (or whatever) since she tried them before, both her hearing and hearing aid technology has changed considerably.

So even if the calculation before was that it wouldn't help, that calculation very well might be different today.
posted by flug at 5:44 PM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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