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If you have a friend or family member experiencing hearing loss, there are numerous ways you can provide valuable support. Hearing loss and its impact on various aspects of life can be difficult to navigate. It can feel isolating and overwhelming, preventing people from sharing their hearing needs. You can help create an accessible and supportive environment by learning more about hearing loss, how it impacts communication, and tips for effective communication.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Familiarizing yourself with the scope of hearing loss is a useful way to provide informed support and care. Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition that older adults experience. It impacts over 48 million people (or 20% of the population) in the U.S., making it a public health epidemic. According to the Hearing Health Foundation:
- 1 in 5 people (ages 12 and over) has some degree of hearing loss
- 26 million people with hearing loss are between the ages of 20-69
- 50% of adults 75 and older have hearing loss
- 25% of adults 65 to 74 has hearing loss
These statistics highlight the pervasiveness of hearing loss which can be caused by a variety of factors including:
- Environmental exposure to loud noise: one time and/or consistent exposure to loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear which help process sound.
- Existing medical conditions: including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes increases the risk of developing hearing loss.
- Aging: also known as presbycusis, age related hearing loss results from the natural aging process and/or medical conditions (and medications) which older adults have a higher risk of experiencing.
- Other: less common causes of hearing loss are head injuries and genetic history.
These factors can damage integral parts of the auditory system which is how we hear and understand sound; resulting in hearing loss, a permanent condition.
Impact of Hearing Loss on Communication
Hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to hear and process sound which produces a range of symptoms that impact daily life. These symptoms can be experienced mildly to severely, causing:
- Strained Communication: people with hearing loss can experience: sounds are muffled or slurred, difficulty hearing in environments with background noise, asking others to speak loudly and/or slowly, needing people to repeat themselves, difficulty identifying words etc. These symptoms make it difficult to engage in and follow a conversation. This can contribute to miscommunication and a frustrating interaction.
- Social Withdrawal: because conversations require more effort, they can be draining. People with hearing loss may choose to avoid conversations altogether which means avoiding social gatherings. This kind of isolation results in spending less time with family and friends which can impact relationships. This can also contribute to depression and stress, impacting one’s mental health.
Strained communication and social withdrawal takes a toll on overall health and wellness. The most important way to alleviate this is by treating hearing loss. Fortunately, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated.
The most common treatment is hearing aids which are electronic devices that are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound. These devices can significantly improve hearing ability and be easily integrated in daily life. It takes time and patience to adjust to hearing aids and this new way of navigating communication.
Tips for Effective Communication
There are numerous ways that you can best support someone with hearing loss. You can practice effective strategies for communication including:
- Grab the person’s attention before starting a conversation so they are ready
- Face them when speaking so that you are clearly visible
- Rephrase rather than repeat when something is not being understood
- Check-in regularly to make sure that the other person is following the conversation
- If you are in a noisier setting, move to a quieter area
- Avoid speaking loudly and quickly. Be sure to speak clearly, fully pronouncing words, and at a natural volume
- Be patient! Rather than saying “never mind” or dismissing details, give yourself and the other person time to hear and process when it is being communicated.
- Text or write down important details (phone numbers, addresses etc.)
Additionally, ask your loved one about their hearing needs and best ways to have a conversation. Normalize discussing this aspect of their life which can make them more comfortable!
If you or a loved one has experienced changes in their hearing, we’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test.