Everyone has someone in their life who struggles to hear. And I would imagine many of us also have someone they know who struggles with eyesight, perhaps due to glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration. Just as you would help lead someone with vision impairment into an unfamiliar room, so must you work at developing communication techniques to enhance your ability to be heard by those with hearing loss. Communication can be very challenging for those that have hearing loss, even with the use of hearing aids. The following strategies are intended to help you communicate more effectively with your loved ones.
Face the person directly when talking. Sit with them at an even level in good lighting. Often, those with hearing loss will focus on your lips in an attempt to understand what you’re saying, and this is more difficult in a dark restaurant.
Do not speak to someone with hearing loss from another room. Even those with good hearing struggle hearing someone from further away! Hearing aids are not programmed to hear someone from another room.
Speak clearly and slowly. By slowing down, you will automatically speak more clearly and distinctly. Do not shout or exaggerate your speech. Shouting distorts your voice making it more difficult to understand.
If initiating the conversation, begin by saying the person’s name. This will grab their attention and give them time to focus on you by the time you are ready to communicate. When we hear well, we use our brain to fill in words we miss. When we have hearing loss, our brains are already working hard to hear what is said and filling in missing words becomes a more difficult task.
Speak in concise terms. Many elderly people with hearing loss also suffer from dementia. Long, drawn out sentences require the effort of listening and also the effort of remembering what was said at the beginning of the sentence.
Minimize distractions such as chewing gum or eating while speaking, and try to keep your hands away from your face.
A person with hearing loss may favor one ear over another. Please orient yourself accordingly.
If you aren’t being understood, rephrase yourself with an alternative choice of words.
Be cognizant of background noises. These noises will interfere with speech and can make it unintelligible. Whenever possible, move into a quiet space for conversations.
When in a group setting, help bridge changes in subject matter. Acquaint the listener with the topic of conversation by saying “John, we were discussing cattle prices but now we are wondering how you feel about _______”. Pay attention to the listener. Confused looks and blank expressions may mean they do not understand. Tactfully ask if they understand or ask leading questions to get your message across.
There will be times that you will need to communicate specific information that must be remembered correctly such as dates and times. Try to find a way to communicate this information in a written format such as sending an email, writing a note or a text message. If your loved one hasn’t had experience with text or email, please teach them. Text and email are very helpful tools for those with hearing loss.
When someone who is hard of hearing is ill or very tired, they will have an even more difficult time understanding. For some hearing losses, understanding speech requires much more mental effort than you could ever know. When that person is tired, or feeling ill, they often won’t have the mental energy to keep up that cognitive effort of listening and understanding speech.
Please keep in mind that a hearing aid is just an “aid”, it is not a corrective device. A person with hearing loss cannot just “work harder” at hearing. Communication is a two-way street. You, as part of the conversation, need to make an effort to be understood. As I mentioned earlier,if you had a family member or friend with vision problems or in a wheelchair, you would make accommodations for that person. The same should be true for those with hearing loss- you must make some changes in how you communicate to help them. And I can tell you that for your loved ones and friends with hearing loss, there is no better gift than family and friends who are supportive and understanding of their hearing loss.
If you or someone you know is struggling with hearing loss, I encourage you to contact our office to schedule an appointment to have your hearing evaluated. At Adaptive Audiology Solutions, we provide hearing healthcare that puts the patient first. We would be honored to treat your loved one’s hearing impairment.
Performed by a licensed hearing healthcare professional.