In a world where communication is a cornerstone of most of our relationships, hearing loss can present many unique challenges that can affect both the person experiencing it and those around them. If you care for someone with hearing loss, your understanding and support can not only play a critical role in fostering that relationship, but also greatly enhance their quality of life. In this blog post, we suggest ways to support someone with hearing loss, including easy communication techniques, and tips on creating an inclusive environment for anyone hard of hearing.
1. Learn the Risks of Untreated Hearing Loss
When hearing loss goes untreated, it can lead to various negative effects on a person’s overall well-being. Understanding the risks of untreated hearing loss is a crucial part of supporting someone struggling with this condition. Untreated hearing loss can lead to social anxiety, self-isolation, clinical depression, and even cognitive decline. In fact, recent studies have found that untreated hearing loss in older adults increases their risk of developing dementia.
By learning about these risks, you can better understand and empathize with what someone with hearing loss may be experiencing day-to-day. This can also provide a better understanding of how you can best support them and ensure they receive the care and accommodations that they deserve. If someone you know is experiencing hearing loss, encourage them to get their hearing tested as soon as possible to ensure the longevity of their quality of life and wellbeing.
2. Speak Face to Face
One of the most effective ways to support a loved one with hearing loss is to make easy adjustments to how you communicate with them. For instance, if you need to speak with someone who has hearing loss, make sure you are facing them directly before you start talking. This simple action can help direct the sound of your voice more effectively, and allows them to see your lips, facial expression, and other visual cues while you are conversing. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the room you’re in is well lit so that the person you’re talking to can clearly see your face and you can see theirs.
3. Speak Clearly
Enunciation is crucial when speaking to someone with hearing loss. It’s often certain consonants or consonant blends that are especially hard for someone with hearing loss to hear correctly. While you don’t want to speak too fast, speaking too slowly and exaggerating the syllables can also make them hard to understand. Additionally, it’s important to remember that shouting, while louder in volume, can actually distort your pronunciation as well, making it harder to understand what you are trying to communicate. Trying to speak while you are chewing gum, smoking, or touching your mouth a lot during a conversation can also make it difficult for people with hearing loss to understand you. Instead, keep your speech patterns natural, avoid slurring or rushing your words, and refrain from shouting unnecessarily.
4. Be Sensitive to Background Noise
For people with hearing loss, ambient (background) noise can make following a conversation especially difficult. As sounds become harder to hear in general, excessive noise in an area can make following a conversation or concentrating on specific sounds even more challenging. Depending on a person’s level of hearing loss, busy places like restaurants, or other public spaces can be especially difficult. Before starting a conversation, assess the environment and make an extra effort to be face to face while also speaking clearly. If it’s necessary, you might wait to have the conversation later, or find a quieter room to talk. When in public places, or walking outside, wait for large groups, loud cars, and other noisy distractions to dissipate rather than trying to shout over them.
5. Get Their Attention First
No matter who you are talking to, it’s always best to start a conversation by getting their attention first. In most cases, it’s best to avoid touching someone to get their attention, like tapping them on the shoulder for instance. This can be startling to some people, especially if they didn’t hear you approach them. Instead, get within their line of sight and say their name before saying anything else. This will give them a chance to focus while reducing the chance of missing parts of what you said at the beginning of the conversation. Simple phrases like “Hello”, or “Good Morning” are also great ways to start a conversation with someone with hearing loss, especially if you don’t know their name, or if you are less familiar with them. Another effective approach could be to simply ask them directly about their preferred method of gaining their attention.
6. Adapt to Their Dominant Ear
Not everyone experiences hearing loss equally in both ears. In fact, some may only have hearing loss in one ear. If this is the case, making a point to remember which is their “good ear” is an easy and thoughtful gesture that can help them hear you better. Simple environmental adjustments like moving a speaker in the living room to suit their dominant ear can also be quite helpful for someone with hearing loss.
7. Pause and Pay Attention
If someone is speaking fast, or mumbling, it can be challenging for anyone to catch every word they say. For many people with hearing loss, it can often seem like everyone is mumbling, or talking too quickly for them to keep up in the conversation. Being mindful of pausing between sentences and waiting to make sure they understand you before going on can be incredibly helpful. This can minimize the amount of effort it takes for them to actively participate in conversations, because they won’t have to fill in as many blanks, or missed words, or rely on other context clues. Checking in with them to make sure they understand you not only ensures clear communication, but also demonstrates that you care and want them to enjoy the conversation as well. It’s also a good idea to signal changes of subjects clearly and avoid shortcuts, so that they can more easily keep up.
8. Rephrase Instead of Repeat
If someone with hearing loss asks you to repeat a phrase or sentence, it might be more helpful to rephrase it. Rephrasing your statement with simple words, and clearly enunciating can be more helpful than just repeating the same phrase. This is because there may have been just one word or consonant that was hard to understand. It can become frustrating or even embarrassing for some people to have to ask someone to repeat themselves more than once. In these scenarios, you can simply acknowledge their feelings and ask them directly how you can better support them in understanding you.
9. Use and Advocate for Communication Aids
When it comes to supporting a loved one with hearing loss, incorporating specific communication tools and techniques into your daily interactions can make a significant difference in their quality of life. Simple strategies such as writing down reminders or sharing a calendar that they can easily reference can help ensure effective communication and minimize misunderstandings. Making yourself available to accompany your friend or loved one to important meetings or appointments can help alleviate their stress or anxiety about not being able to hear important information. You can also advocate for accommodations, such as captioning or assistive listening devices, to ensure they can fully participate in discussions as well. By using these practical tools and techniques, you can create an inclusive environment that fosters clear communication, understanding, and support for anyone in your life with hearing loss.
10. Encourage Them to Use Hearing Aids
Embracing the use of hearing aids can be a life changing step for anyone with hearing loss. If someone close to you is clearly struggling to hear, it is essential to be a supportive presence in their life by encouraging and advocating for the consistent use of hearing aids. Discussing the benefits of wearing hearing aids, such as improved communication, enhanced quality of life, and reduced social isolation, can motivate your loved one to wear them regularly. Staying informed about the latest advancements in hearing aid technology and sharing this knowledge can also inspire them to consider upgrading their current devices. New hearing aid technology enables hearing aids to adjust automatically, filter out background noise, connect the wearer to all of their audio devices, and so much more. They could even use them as a Bluetooth hands-free device for phone calls. By promoting the use and exploration of hearing aid options, you can empower your loved one to actively participate in conversations and fully engage with the world around them with confidence.
Help Your Loved One Take the First Step Towards Better Hearing at Hearing Lab
Sometimes the greatest support you can provide is helping someone you care about find the hearing loss care they deserve. At Hearing Lab, our highly experienced hearing specialists provide the highest standard of care. We are proud to help patients take control of their hearing health with the best hearing aids for their needs, lifestyle, and budget.