My dad won't hear or listen
March 20, 2021 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Help! I am caring (in a sort of relay with my sister), for my dad. He’s 88 and not in bad health, but quite frail. He lives about a 4-and-a-half hour drive from us, on an island with a ferry journey at the end of the drive, so we are taking turns working remotely from there. We are spending several weeks (sometimes more) each with him. I’m “on” at the moment.

My dad is very smart and retains his mental acuity. He is also Always Right.

My problem is that at the moment, one of his hearing aids is broken and will take two weeks to be fixed. He has decided that he can hear me better without wearing the other hearing aid. This is not true. This is resulting in my dad talking at me very loudly all of the time, and not hearing any of my attempts at (highly-projected! - not shouted!) responses.

I have at least one week but probably longer left here. What can I do to keep my sanity? Trying to reason with him about this does not work.

I love my dad, but this is already wearing me down (it's been two days)
posted by Samarium to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I resorted to writing things out to communicate with my granddad when he did the no hearing aid thing. Saved my voice and my sanity.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 5:46 PM on March 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Ear plugs and a small dry-erase board.

"Until your hearing aids are fixed I am wearing this for my own hearing."
posted by kschang at 5:57 PM on March 20, 2021 [16 favorites]

This is what I've found works with my grandmother though she has some dementia as well.

1. Be very firm in what you do and don't argue. If you choose the writing, - keep on repeating: Dad, until you wear your hearing aid, I can only communicate to you by writing and I'm wearing hearing aids because you are talking so loudly that I have a headache. Do not engage in further details and arguments and logic.

2. Be very, very kind. Dad, I'm sorry about that and I know that is how it feels for you, but this is what I'm doing so we can communicate. Repeat as needed.

I think of it as how you would parent a toddler.

You are doing a good thing and it is difficult to move this role with parents. You have to protect yourself as well so you can continue to be helpful and if that means not trying to communicate audibly with someone who can't hear you, then do what you need to do.
posted by RoadScholar at 6:05 PM on March 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

We were JUST talking about this this evening. When my mother-in-law started to lose her hearing she couldn't hear my deep voice. I started speaking to her in falsetto, which served three purposes: 1) she could understand those frequencies. 2) it caused everyone around us to crack up laughing. and C) she high-tailed it to the audiologist to get hearing aids. Maybe try different vocal ranges to see if he can hear a deeper voice or a higher pitched voice. If that doesn't work then writing things down worked for my mom with my dad.
posted by Floydd at 6:06 PM on March 20, 2021 [8 favorites]

If you asked him to whisper, would he?
posted by kate4914 at 6:13 PM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe he needs a better hearing aid. Is that a possibility? Maybe the one he has is uncomfortable or not great for some other reason.
posted by amtho at 7:00 PM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite] are a patient human being.

Earplugs and sms only.
posted by firstdaffodils at 7:03 PM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but:

There is no way that my dad will communicate with me by writing because I can hear him and he can hear me (according to him, and He Is Right).

He doesn’t need to hear what I say, he only needs me to hear what he says. He’s usually not asking for anything, he is just relating stuff to me. Opinions, Thoughts, Songs, Observations. They don’t require an answer.

It's not really the physical hearing problem that is the problem - it's more that it's really hard spending every hour with someone who doesn't feel that they need to hear what you are saying
posted by Samarium at 7:19 PM on March 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Ah, the Dad Who Is Always Right. I have one of those too. My sympathies; it is truly awful and I can only imagine how much worse the hearing-aid issue is making it.

Does anything distract him? Games, jigsaw puzzles, Teh Intartubez? Movies or TV with captioning? Distraction is where I'd start.
posted by humbug at 8:23 PM on March 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I think you should try emphasizing how you need undisturbed hours, many of them each day, in order to do your job.

Even always-right dads understand jobs. Don't talk about hearing aids, talk to him about your job and how you have to get your work done so your boss will let you stay with him. Your boss is getting impatient with all these interruptions, right?
posted by fritley at 8:38 PM on March 20, 2021 [17 favorites]

1. Go to another room, shut and hopefully lock door. Put sign-on door that says, "In work meeting from X to Y. Do not disturb." That will at least give you a break now and then.

2. Stop shouting. You are not obligated to shout when another viable option exists. If dad asks you to speak up, politely decline to make yourself hoarse. Let dad know that if he wants to engage with you, he'll need to get his working hearing aid. And no matter his complaints, don't start shouting.
posted by brookeb at 9:41 PM on March 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

My mother (85) is somewhat like this. I live with and care for her full-time. She hates wearing her hearing aids. Her main excuse is that they are uncomfortable, but she won't go to CostCo to get them adjusted, nor will she try different ones. I even found a place that sends you a trial non-working pair in the mail to try out for fit, but she nixed that for BS reasons. Her auxiliary excuse is that she can't wear both her oxygen and her hearing aids at the same time, even though I have shown her how to clip the oxygen tube on rather than place it behind her ears, and offered to do it for her anytime.

Thankfully, she doesn't yell like your father does. She just doesn't hear me very well when she doesn't have her hearing aids in, which is much of the time.

I really, um, hear you on how lousy it feels to live with someone who doesn't give a crap what you have to say. Does your father wear his hearing aids for doctor's appointments or other outings? My mother has always worn hers for appointments, which exacerbates the feeling that she just doesn't consider what *I* have to say important.

She also pretends she has heard me sometimes, and is often hilariously wrong about what she thinks she's heard. She will take one misheard word and create a far-fetched sentence around it. Like, if I were to ask her "How are you feeling?", she might decide that I said "look at the ceiling" and look up. I *try* to find this funny if at all possible. Sometimes it's not.

I don't doubt that the hearing aids are not particularly comfortable, but I think the larger reason for her reticence is that she has less and less power as she ages, she doesn't drive anymore, and she is aware she doesn't think as well as she used to. Therefore, I believe this a realm in which she can grab back power. I, again, *try* to keep this in mind to be more sympathetic. Sometimes it even works.

This issue and a couple others finally bothered me so much that I had a come-to-Jesus "talk" over email with her. I stated that I would no longer live with her (and she knows that would mean she would need to go to assisted living) if she didn't do X, Y, and Z. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, she agreed, and now one of our rules is that she always has to wear her hearing aids at dinner. Consequently, I save really important things I need to communicate for dinner time. I wonder if you could issue an ultimatum to your dad that X time range is when he needs to wear his hearing aids? I wouldn't bother trying to talk him into the idea that this is necessary or helpful to you. Just that that is the way it is. If he wants your help, these are the conditions. Repeat dispassionately as needed. And then follow through.

Another thing I did was buy a megaphone. That way, outside of dinner time, if I really need her to hear something, I can amplify my voice without getting hoarse or resentful. This has worked fairly well. My megaphone also includes a siren sound, which I have been tempted at times to use to get her attention, but have not thus far. But it's nice knowing I have that nuclear option :-)

Another thing that has helped is seeing just how common this issue is. I have Googled around before and found tons of caregivers who are being driven bananas by their elderly relatives' refusal to buy or wear hearing aids. Knowing that you are in good company and are not being uniquely persecuted perhaps may help a bit as well.

Good luck.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 11:46 PM on March 20, 2021 [16 favorites]

Maybe buy a pair of AirPods for him. They’ll arrive sooner than his hearing aid, and I’ve read that they work almost as well as hearing aids.
posted by Capri at 12:54 AM on March 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: it's more that it's really hard spending every hour with someone who doesn't feel that they need to hear what you are saying

You're not wrong to feel upset. It is upsetting when people don't appear to want to communicate with you. But it may help to reframe your father's reluctance to wear one hearing aid as more about his ability to hear rather than specifically about hearing you.

By telling himself he can hear you better without just one hearing aid, he's really telling himself his hearing isn't that bad. Hearing loss is a complicated emotional issue for a lot of people: they associate with being old and the stigma that surrounds that. It can also be scary that something you used to be able to do easily is now out of reach.

The monologuing isn't an unusual compensatory (for lack of a better term) strategy: If I keep talking without needing a response, then it's easier to ignore that I have difficulty hearing. It's very frustrating to be on the receiving end, but again it's not so much about wanting to not hear you as wanting to not acknowledge their hearing loss.

There may also be something about just one hearing aid that is making him uncomfortable, but he doesn't want to admit that for whatever reason (you'd obviously know better than I if he has a tendency to do that kind of thing). I've worked with some patients who'd feel off balance or even dizzy when they only had one hearing aid, which could be scary if he's a fall risk.

Some people also have a hearing loss where even if something is loud enough it's distorted, and sometimes this is asymmetric. So if the hearing aid that is broken is his "good ear," he may feel like he's mostly getting noise from the one he still has. Wearing it is still helpful, as you know by not having to shout (and him speaking more softly), but it may not feel like it to him.

You could see if his hearing care provider has a loaner hearing aid for the next week. There's also something called a Pocket talker (basically a pair of headphones + an amplifier+ a microphone for you to talk into) that's helpful for one on one conversations, which some places loan out instead of hearing aids (less chance of loss). But given what you said about his stubbornness that may also be an uphill battle. Since his hearing aid will be back in about a week the struggle may not be worth it to you. You may have a better chance at asking for quiet time and/or a specific time that he wears the hearing aid (as suggested above).
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:51 AM on March 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: OK I totally get where you are coming from, but I also totally get where he is coming from. You are both trying desperately to be heard in more ways than one.

You are feeling unheard because your Dad isn't respecting your efforts to be there with him that is coming from a place of love and concern and he appears to not be wanting to communicate with you and your Dad is desperately clinging to the little left in his life that he can control and is feeling unheard in his fears as his autonomy slowly slips away.

So much like a toddler having a tantrum because it's the only control they have of the world, he is rebelling the only way he knows how. Throw in hearing aids are not a magic cure all, are often uncomfortable and annoying to use and one hearing aid can be even worse comfort wise than two as it can throw off balance and make add to confusion because noises seem to come from the wrong place or are distorted. From his POV he wouldn't have to wear the stupid uncomfortable things if you weren't in his house all the time and he probably didn't wear them when home alone before he needed someone living with him. While I am sure he loves and appreciates the help logically, you being there is a constant reminder that he is not getting younger. Hearing aid wise he's gone from lounging around in metaphorical sweat pants every day to haven't to put on pants and a belt because you're there and maybe he's enjoying dressing casual for a bit.

Maybe you can find a compromise, he will wear his hearing aid during the times you guys are sitting around talking in the mornings and evenings, but he is free to take it out when he's off doing his own thing and you're working. In return he doesn't disturb you with talking while you're working.
posted by wwax at 11:26 AM on March 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

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