Communicating with People who Have Hearing Loss

Communicating with People who Have Hearing Loss

Robert Weissman, Au.D., B.C.A., CCC-AUncategorized

Robert Weissman, Au.D., B.C.A., CCC-A

Communication is always a two-way street, and even though a person with hearing loss might use hearing aids and active listening strategies, there are things you can do to make communication easier between the two of you. Whether it’s a family member, friend, classmate or coworker, we all know someone with hearing loss who would appreciate us improving our understanding of how best to communicate with them. Take note of these tips and you’ll be on your way to smoother conversations.

  • Understand that hearing loss is exhausting. This has been reported as the #1 thing that people with hearing loss wish everyone else understood. Straining to listen and cobbling coherent sentences together out of bits and pieces and context clues takes a serious toll on mental energy, so do what you can to minimize the difficulty here, but also be understanding when this person tires out before you do.
  • Whenever possible, try to have your conversations take place in well-lit areas where you can face each other. The light should be on your face more than theirs, so they can read your lips and/or facial expressions. This is really important for helping someone who is hard of hearing understand what’s being communicated.
  • Never try to shout to the person from another room. Get visual confirmation that you have their attention before speaking.
  • Speak clearly and perhaps slowly, but don’t exaggerate mouth movements or shout. This changes the shape of your mouth in ways that actually make it harder to read, and shouting is more likely to distort what you’re saying than make it more understandable.
  • If the person with hearing loss has asked you to repeat yourself, try rephrasing what you said rather than just saying it louder. This will help provide a different set of context clues for them to use, and it never hurts to practice articulating your thoughts in more than one way!
  • Say the person’s name before addressing them. This gives them a chance to refocus attention on what you’re about to say and makes it less likely that they’ll miss the first few words.
  • Avoid covering your face with your hands, or talking with your mouth full or with a cigarette in your lips. Also be aware that beards and mustaches can make it more difficult to read lips. Depending on your relationship with the person, it might be worth considering shaving.
  • Many people with hearing loss have one ear that hears better than the other. If they point this out to you, make a note of it, but don’t ask them “which is the good ear.”
  • In general, ask if there’s anything you can do to make communication easier for them, and act on their suggestions, but don’t make assumptions or ask pointed questions.
  • If the person is new to hearing loss, they may still be adjusting to hearing aids. Communication issues might be especially frustrating for them during this time.
  • If they are new to hearing aids, they may still be retraining their brain to understand speech, or dehabituate themself from tuning out of conversations altogether. This, too, may be an unusually difficult circumstance that will change over time.
  • Most people with hearing loss have special difficulty differentiating important sounds from background noise, so try to stage conversations in quiet areas.
  • Some people with hearing loss experience a condition known as “hyperacusis,” where everyday sounds become unbearably loud for them. This is usually not a permanent situation though it can last for a long time. This is another good reason to stage your conversations in quiet spaces, and not to speak loudly or shout.
  • Avoid non-sequiturs or quick changes in topics of conversation. If you’re ready to move on to another subject, perhaps quickly summarize what you’ve just been discussing or notify the person with hearing loss that you are now moving on to a new subject. Start with a few sentences about the new subject to give them some time to understand where you might be going with it.
  • If you need to give specific information like dates, times, addresses or phone numbers, consider writing them down or emailing. If this is not possible, have the person repeat them back to you. Lots of numbers and letters sound alike to a person with hearing loss, so this is a minefield of potential confusion.

Treating hearing loss helps you stay in the conversation! If you are ready to address hearing loss, contact us today to schedule an appointment