How do I encourage my dad to get a hearing aid?
February 7, 2013 12:12 AM   Subscribe

I live with my parents. My dad is in his early 70s and he's going deaf. This started a few years ago. Now, he often isn't aware that my mother or I are speaking at all unless he's looking right us, and even when he is, it's clear that he's only pretending to hear a lot of the time.

He's also a very sensitive, increasingly withdrawn alcoholic who hasn't been to the doctor in ten years. I believe he's depressed. I see him cutting himself off from my mother and me, and I think he's letting the deafness help him do it.

We've raised the hearing aid issue before, jokingly. Before Christmas he once said he would think about getting one this year, but there's been no followup. I don't think he'll listen to my mother if she pushes him. I don't think deafness is the biggest factor in his self-isolation, but it would help to address it, wouldn't it? Is it even my place to push him to get one? What's the kindest/most effective way to go about it?
posted by srs airbag to Human Relations (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is there something he enjoys doing, which might be enjoyed more if he could hear better? Something that increases his general level of happiness might motivate him to make changes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:23 AM on February 7, 2013

I was diagnosed with poor hearing at 40, and now wear hearing aids. It turns out I;'ve likely had poor hearing all my life, and good hearing aids make life so much easier. No one ever notices them, which surprised me. The hearing aids available now are digital, and are vastly better than the old ones. Vastly better. Also easier to adapt to. The hearing specialist should be happy to loan your dad a pair to test drive. Dad, I feel like your hearing is getting worse, and I miss being able to really talk with you. I'd like to make an appt. with (the local non-profit or well-recommended audiologist) for you to test some hearing aids. What do you say?

Some audiologists are more sales-focused. I wouldn't enjoy that; get the recommendations 1st. I went to a local non-profit and they were terrific.
posted by theora55 at 12:31 AM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure how it works where you live, but where I live there is an option to get your hearing tested when you get your eyes tested even at Big Generic Glasses Store. I personally was surprised when I saw how small modern hearing aids are. Perhaps getting your dad in for a vision test would allow him to see the same thing and hope to overcome the fear and aversion hurdle, especially if you talk to the place beforehand.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:35 AM on February 7, 2013

I had similar issues with my mom, she's 77. She moved in a few years ago and her response to any question was always "What?" At the suggestion of her primary physician, I took her to an Otolaryngologist, (ear, nose and throat doc) who removed truly huge chunks of wax from her ears, and suggested she get tested by an Audiologist. She resisted, telling me that she had been tested and the doc said she had "socially acceptable hearing." I looked up, she did have this done... in 1984!

So off to the hearing test, where the audiologist confirmed she should benefit from heading aids. So mom was fitted, and I thought everything would be great.


The devices were fitted in November, if she's worn them 15 times since then I'd be amazed. She's never put them in herself, and when questioned she tells me "they don't seem to make a difference." We double checked with the audiologist, the aids are working fine. I have a feeling it's a vanity thing, like her glasses, which she also refuses to wear.

Tl;dr, don't be surprised if your dad rejects the hearing aids even if they would help him.
posted by Marky at 1:38 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

There are inexpensive devices usually called "Personal Sound Amplifiers" that are basically non-miniaturized hearing aids which look like a pendant with earbuds or a phone Bluetooth headset. When I worked at an electronics retail store some people would wear them at home because they were more comfortable than in-ear hearing aids. (This was two decades ago, so real hearing aids weren't as small back then nor did the batteries last as long.)

So maybe get him one of these as a gift and say that it's "just for hearing the TV better" and get him to try it, then if he finds it helps him it can be a "gateway drug" towards persuading him to go through the process to get a real hearing aid.
posted by XMLicious at 1:43 AM on February 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Help him make the appointments and then go with him if you can. Help him pick a hearing aid so he gets encouragement that it looks great or is almost invisible or whatever he needs to hear from people he loves. Help him decide on a good hearing aid, not a cheap one that will just disappoint him.

Then go with him to listen to stuff he likes, which you'll just have to figure out for yourself. Radio? TV? Sports? Music? Birds? Fireworks? Playground? Car racing? Friends? Bar talk? Local government? Talking to you? Calling relatives he hasn't heard from in a long time? Joining some group of guys who have a hobby he enjoys?
posted by pracowity at 1:54 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try to educate him about hearing aids, and tell him that you would pretty much appreciate it if he got hearings aids
posted by dolilmao at 2:21 AM on February 7, 2013

Personally I wouldn't push it. It's doesn't sound like it's his most pressing problem right now. Encouraging someone to do something they don't really want to do can seem a lot like badgering or criticism when you're dealing with issues like depression or alcoholism. It could potentially backfire and cause him to withdraw more. I have a close relative who won't acknowledge her increasing deafness; she becomes very offended if you drop even a hint about it. We work around it as best we can, and hope that one day she'll choose to deal with it.

My approach would be to work towards a state where you and he both tacitly acknowledge that he can't hear a lot of what's going on. When it's obvious he's pretending that he heard something you said, but obviously didn't, just apologise and repeat it so that he can hear it. Don't make a big thing of it; just do things that let him know that you're aware of his hearing problems and want to be accommodating without being pushy.

Sometimes I think it's better to just accept that someone's not ready for change, and work with what you have.
posted by pipeski at 4:15 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

My 95 year old grandmother's hearing has gotten progressively worse, to the point that she can't understand what anyone is saying any more. She also doesn't speak English, which makes getting things done that much more difficult if she cannot hear and one of us isn't physically present to shout translations for her. She doesn't care, and just says that she's too old to worry about hearing aids. You can't force him if he doesn't want to go, even if it's for his own good.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:44 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have the same issue with my mom - she has hearing aids, but refuses to wear them. Granted, they are about 15 years old and they make whistling noises. She doesn't want to get newer ones. So I've learned to adjust my voice so she is able to hear what I'm saying, and I also make sure I'm facing her when speaking. Sometimes I also have to act as her interpreter with other people. Yeah, it places a bigger burden on me, but what can you do? It's harder to combat a lifetime of stubbornness, and sometimes the things she thinks we are saying make for some good humor all around.
posted by jenh526 at 6:19 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

My Dad has worn hearing aids for decades. Unfortuneately, they're the same ones. I'm lucky in that usually you can reason with him. He's also a behavioral therapist so you can kind of run his game on him and it usually works out.

Me: Hey Dad, I'm noticing that you have a lot of problems hearing stuff in crowds. What do you think causes that?

Dad: I've always had that issue with this hearing aid.

Me: True, I remember how we always have to pick restaurants that aren't too crowded for you to enjoy them. So when was the last time you got a new hearing aid?

Dad: Right before we went overseas.

Me: So...fifteen years ago?

Dad: Sounds about right.

Me: You know, fifteen years is a long time in the world of technology, imagine the advances that have been made. Perhaps you ought to check in with an audiologist to see what's new and exciting in the world of hearing aids.

Dad: Esther! (my mom) Make an appointment.

And he got a new, micro hearing aid that works a bazillion times better than the old one.

The problem is that unless your dad buys in, it won't work.

You can approach it as an intervention: "Dad, you're becoming increasingly isolated, reclusive and reliant upon alcohol. Mom and I are worried about you and about your health. When you're drunk you re unpleasant to be around. Your obvious loss of hearing has a serious impact on my ability to communicate with you. Since it's been too long since your last doctors appointment it's time for you to get a comprehensive check up. Body, Eyes and ears. I love you and I want you to have wonderful golden years. Please agree to go with us to the doctor for a full check up."

When you go, be sure to be in the room to advocate for your Dad, to take notes from the doctor and to understand all the medications and advice that are offered. Make sure that the doctor knows that your dad abuses alcohol and ask about depression.

My sister goes with my parents because this is what it's like if you ask them separately what happened:

Dad: The doctor said I was doing great! I'm going to live forever.

Mom: The doctor said that his diabetes is worse, that he's going to need to go on insulin, and we have to be concerned about his kidneys! GAH!

Sister: The doctor said that given that Dad has had diabetes for 20 years, that it's time to move to injected insulin. It's a smallish dose and perfectly normal considering how long he's had the disease. All diabetics should have kidney examinations, so he's sending dad to a specialilst.

Managing aging parents is a thing. I'm pretty lucky that I don't have to do too much in that respect. (Much to my sister's chagrin) But a little involvement on your part will go a long way to smothing things for both of your folks.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:40 AM on February 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

If your parents have old, not-digital hearing aids, and you can afford to buy them new ones, the difference is amazing.
posted by theora55 at 7:09 AM on February 7, 2013

Maybe tell stories in sotto voce, and periodically say tantalizingly interesting parts clearly, to pique his interest? (I don't mean to be snarky. I just hope you can find a way to give him the intrinsic motivation to hear more clearly.)
posted by Capri at 7:34 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Previously, you might find the answers there helpful as well.

As I commented in that thread, I've had experience with this with a family member. We've been very frustrated with the whole experience because, just as many other people have said, the kind of stubborn people who refuse to get hearing aids are the same kind of stubborn people who refuse to wear them.

And unfortunately getting the hearing aids fitted and adjusted properly is the kind of process that requires the user of the hearing aids to be a willing participant. If the person is not participating, they can get all sorts of issues that provide them with excuses not to wear the hearing aids. I think the basic problem is that our family member went too long without hearing aids and got used to being in his own little quiet world, which because of his personality, is something he actually likes (it sounds like this may characterize your dad, too). So when he wears the hearing aids, everything sounds incredibly loud to him and he can't handle it. It's always "why are you shouting!?" and "it's deafening!" So he refuses to wear them, even though we notice such a huge difference and it's so much more pleasant to spend time with him (for us) when we don't have to scream to be heard.

Most recently he was supposed to return for an appointment and he cancelled because he hadn't been wearing the hearing aids enough to be able to work on adjusting them correctly. Sigh.

Anyway, for your dad, I would work on getting him in to see a primary care physician. If he hasn't been in 10 years, at his age, there are probably a ton of things he needs, and they can help address the depression and alcoholism as well (of course, get the right doc, so they don't overwhelm him by trying to do everything at once). I suspect that if the depression is treated you'd have much better luck pursuing the hearing issues.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:24 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Could your dad be reluctant to be tested out of concern for the cost of hearing aids? I know they are rarely covered by medical insurance, and my dad, who as my mom says "leaves at least a raincoat in every city he ever visited" has added hearing aids to his list of lost articles. They have also been lost during a hospitalization, and the hospital was not responsible to replace them.

Perhaps other posters are aware of ways to reduce the cost so cost is less of a barrier.
posted by citygirl at 9:55 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your input, all. I'm going to look into providers in the area that my dad will hopefully trust and get an idea what kind of costs he'd be looking at, and if I can find someone specific to suggest, then I will broach the subject with him (this will be the hard part), tactfully, once (this year). Getting him to a GP is still my mother's problem, thank goodness. The role change involved in caring for parents is very daunting for me.

I appreciate your warnings that even if he gets a hearing aid he may resist using it. I will bear that in mind going in.
posted by srs airbag at 12:20 AM on February 8, 2013

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