About 36 million Americans suffer from hearing loss—but only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one.

How does untreated hearing loss affect the sufferer’s loved ones? Over time, it can seriously strain—even destroy—a marriage or parent-child relationship due, for example, to misunderstandings and frayed nerves in the person who must constantly repeat himself/herself. Fortunately, you can motivate your loved one to take action…


Understanding the full extent to which hearing loss impacts your loved one will strengthen your resolve to motivate him to get treatment. The psychological effects are huge. People with untreated hearing loss tend to become withdrawn and are significantly more prone to depression and anxiety than those with adequate hearing. Anger, confusion, discouragement, loss of self-esteem and shame often occur as well.

Important recent discovery: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging found that even mild hearing loss was associated with twice the risk for dementia, while people with severe hearing loss were five times more likely to develop the condition—a link that gives sufferers yet another reason to consider getting hearing aids.


More than two-thirds of people who refuse hearing aids do so because they think “my hearing isn’t bad enough,” according to research conducted by the National Council on Aging. It is also easy for the person with hearing loss to blame other people (“you’re just mumbling”).

The most direct way to respond to this situation is to use “tough love.” This means that you must stop being your loved one’s ears. Take sensible steps to optimize communication—for example, speak clearly and face to face, not from another room. However, do not repeat yourself every time your loved one asks what you said and don’t shout yourself hoarse just so he can hear. If you stop filling in the information that your loved one isn’t hearing, he will be more likely to get treated.

Helpful: Tell your loved one that you’re going to begin this practice out of love and concern and to make both your lives better. It is not a step that you’re taking out of anger or vindictiveness.

If it feels too extreme to stop helping your loved one when he doesn’t hear something, try this: Keep repeating yourself and/or conveying what others are saying, but preface it each time with the phrase “hearing help.” This reminds your loved one of the hearing problem without cutting off communication.

Important: If you can’t bear to try one of these approaches with your loved one, take an honest look at your own feelings about the situation. Is it possible that you find some degree of satisfaction in being your spouse’s or parent’s link to the world and having that person depend on you so much? Wanting to help is a wonderful human trait, but when you need to help your loved one, it locks you both into a pattern of codependence. If you suspect that you’re caught in such a cycle, seeing a therapist can help—even in just a session or two.


If your loved one recognizes his hearing problem but still won’t get treated, here are some possible reasons why—and how to respond…

Vanity. Research shows that 20% of those who refuse to have their hearing corrected said the following about using a hearing aid: “It makes me feel old”…“I’m too embarrassed to wear one”…or “I don’t like what others will think of me.”

What to do: Tell your loved one that the inability to hear is far more noticeable than a hearing aid and may well be interpreted as a cognitive problem or other illness. Then ask your loved one if he is familiar with modern hearing devices, which are much smaller and far less intrusive than those used years ago.

Expense. Even many people who can well afford the cost of a hearing aid use price as an excuse to avoid treatment.

What to do: Ask if your loved one knows exactly how much hearing aids cost. Mention that many different devices are available and that costs vary widely.

Then remind your loved one how hearing loss impacts his life, yours and other family members’—and ask, “What’s it worth for you to keep these relationships intact?”

Inferior equipment. Many people say, “I’ve been told that hearing aids don’t work so well.”

What to do: Ask for the source of your loved one’s information to determine how reliable it is. Then ask whether he’s willing to take a 30-day trial to test the effectiveness of hearing aids. Most state laws mandate a trial period. Check local laws by contacting your state’s Department of Consumer Affairs. If your state does not require a 30-day trial, ask that it be written into any hearing-aid sales agreement—reputable sellers will agree to this.

If a loved one says, “I tried hearing aids and they didn’t work,” find out when and where the devices were purchased and suggest that he go to another audiologist. To find one near you, check with the American Academy of Audiology, www.Audiology.org.


If you try these approaches and your loved one still won’t address his hearing loss, even stronger actions may be necessary. Be sure to consider your loved one’s personality—can he deal with more direct confrontation, even if done in a gentle, loving way?

If so, you might try…

Videotape. Make a videotape of your loved one in a situation where he struggles to hear, such as a family get-together. Then sit down and view the tape with him privately to prevent embarrassment.

Intervention. Without prior warning to the loved one, family members meet with him for 10 to 15 minutes to talk about how the problem has affected them. The overall message of the meeting should be how much the family members care…and want a higher quality of life for the person with hearing loss (and for themselves).