How can I convince my family member to get help for their hearing loss?

By:  Lisa D. Cahill, Ph.D., CCC-A

Untreated hearing loss is a major public health concern and is the most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease. Hearing loss is an invisible condition and only its effects can be seen.  Effects of hearing loss can often be mistakenly attributed to aloofness, detachment, social isolation, confusion, or personality changes. Hearing loss in older people can complicate and compound various cognitive conditions such as dementia. One out of every three individuals over age 65 have a significant hearing loss, with a total of hearing impaired individuals in the U.S. exceeding 36 million (Collins, 1997).  Only about 8 million U.S. individuals with treatable hearing loss have pursued help through hearing aids. 

Many professionals in the hearing industry use a term called “Tested, not sold”.  These are patients that have reported for a hearing test and were informed of a hearing loss amenable to the use of hearing aids, but left the office without making a decision.  This comprises an astounding portion of our clinical population, nearly 60% of hearing tests each month in many practices. In our profession, we take a “no pressure” approach to our sales technique since the decision to get hearing aids is a very personal one.  Barriers to making this transition can include cost of the hearing aids, perceived stigma associated with hearing aids, or lack of acceptance and denial of the problem.  In general, hearing aid users wait 10 years or longer after their initial diagnosis to be fit with their first set of hearing aids (Davis, Smith, Ferguson, Stephens, & Gianopoulos, 2007). We believe that pressuring the patient to make a decision can delay a hearing aid fitting even longer, or worse, result in a bad experience with unwanted hearing aids that ends up in a return for credit.

What can family members do when a loved one is in denial of the need for help for their hearing problem? We subconsiously learn to compensate for the other person’s hearing loss by repeating ourselves, shouting, and straining ourselves to be heard and achieve communication.  This leads to a pattern of co-dependency which perpetuates the untreated problem…giving your loved one an excuse to continue the pattern of denial.  Your co-dependent efforts must stop in order for them to grasp the magnitude of their problem. Many people with a hearing loss never realize how much communication they actually fail to understand or miss completely because you have become their ears. However, it takes only a short time for them to realize that without your help, they cannot function independently. It this realization that leads one to take positive action to solve their problem. Therefore, as a loving family member you must create the need for your loved one to seek treatment by no longer repeating messages and being their ears. Your ultimate goal is for them to hear independent of you.

Tips to promote awareness in your loved one of their hearing loss:

*  Stop repeating yourself without identifying it as “Hearing Help”.

*  Stop raising your voice.

*  Do not repeat what others have said…force the person to obtain the information themselves.

*  Do not engage in conversation from another room, setting the conversation up for failure.

*  Do not help the person on the telephone..allow them to struggle and realize the gravity of their problem.

Remember, it will not be helpful or effective to pressure your loved one to get hearing aids.  When this dynamic is evident in a fitting, it is bound to be unsuccessful, and hearing professionals almost invariably expect the hearing aids to be returned.  Please do not make accusations or guilt-trip your loved one into the decision, or make them feel inferior or flawed because of not treating their hearing loss.  Simply aqllow them to experience the consequences of their lack of attention to the matter.  The most successful hearing aid fittings are those in which the patient has accepted the problem and is allowed to come to the decision on their own. It is of crucial importance that family members attend appointments with the patient, however, the words “It’s his/her decision!” from the mouths of family members is music to our ears! This opens a door and a safety net for your loved one, allowing us to educate and gently lead them toward making a change for the better.


Collins, J. G. (1997). Prevalence of selected chronic conditions: United States 1990–1992. Vital and Health Statistics, 10(194). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

Davis, A., Smith, P., Ferguson, M., Stephens, D., & Gianopoulos, I. (2007). Acceptability, benefit and costs of early screening for hearing disability: A study of potential screening tests and models. Health Technology Assessment, 11, 1–294.