When Friends or Family Mishear

It’s often impossible for someone to tell for themselves if they are mishearing.  So it’s very likely that you will notice a loved ones' loss before they do.  How should you handle the situation?

It could be your partner, one of your parents or children, or a friend or colleague.

If you don’t know how to handle the situation sensitively you could make it harder for them to seek professional advice, which can easily lead to tension in the relationship.

In this article, by Curtis Alcock, we’ll explain how best to approach the subject of mishearing sensitively and constructively.

The Telltale Signs

Perhaps you’ve noticed certain telltale signs that someone is mishearing.

  • Saying “what” or “pardon” more frequently

  • Getting ‘the wrong end of the stick’

  • Wanting the TV up louder

  • Appearing more forgetful than normal

  • Not paying attention

  • Jokes about selective hearing

  • Suggesting others are mumbling

  • Less desire to go out where it’s noisy

  • Nodding or smiling in inappropriate places

Remember that while these signs may be obvious to you, they will probably not be obvious to the person who is mishearing.

Whether they are a partner, a family member, colleague, or friend, their mishearing will affect you just as much – if not more – than it affects them.  That’s because they are unlikely to be aware of what’s happening.


What You Should Do

Don’t get frustrated or angry with them.

  • Frustration and anger push people away. They make the other person defensive – which will simply make them more resistant to your observations.

Don’t make jokes at their expense.

  • Not in front of them. Not behind their back. They are still the same person you’ve always known, and they are probably not doing it on purpose. Making jokes at their expense will damage their self-esteem/self-image, and they will act to repair or maintain it – which will simply make them more resistant to your observations.

Don’t use negative or emotive language.

  • Avoid using phrases like “You’re losing your hearing” or “You’re going deaf”. Such terminology is alarmist and outdated. They suggest that someone will end up with no hearing at all: a prospect that is not only frightening; it is normally untrue. Using such terminology will create resistance. Remember changes in hearing are a natural part of life, just as are other changes in our body are. Most of the time modern hearing technology can effectively address these changes, by maintaining the brain’s access to the sounds that make up speech.

Help them realize for themselves

  • When people can’t hear something, the sound simply ceases to exist for them. So the only way they’ll know they’re missing something is if they have a direct comparison with something that should be audible.

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One way to create such opportunities for comparison is to comment on sounds that you can hear.  The softer the sounds, the better.

  • A ticking clock

  • High-pitched birds

  • Mobile phones vibrating in the next room

Often, when hearing changes, it happens gradually and only affects some types of sounds.  So they may counteract with examples they can hear (such as traffic a long way off).  If so, ask aloud, “I wonder whether it’s certain pitches of sounds that you’re currently missing?”

Talk positively about friends or family members that are using hearing technology.

  • There’s safety in numbers, especially if the examples we have to follow are people we admire or want to be like. Don’t use this as an opportunity to tell them that they too should be using hearing technology. Instead you are simply providing information that will make it easier for them to make the best decision for themselves when the opportunity arises.

Set an example

  • Get your own hearing baselined. Explain that you want to get a record of what your hearing is like now so it will be easier to catch any future changes before someone else does. That we should get our hearing checked routinely, just like we do our eyes and teeth. Try asking them to go with you.


It’s like I have my mom back! I’ll never forget how much easier it is to communicate with her after getting help!
— Jessica S., Daughter of Patient