Hearing loss is one of the most common disabilities in the world today, and age-related hearing loss is the most prevalent form of hearing loss. One-third of people aged 65–74 have hearing loss, and nearly half of those 75 and up have it.
Especially when hearing loss is new to a person who has lived for decades with normal hearing, adjusting to life with hearing loss can be difficult. Developing new communication strategies can be hard. It may take some effort from those around the person with hearing loss to ensure that communication is still possible. While it can be challenging, it is worth the effort if it helps us stay close to those we love and help those with hearing loss stay connected to the world.
Let’s look at a few of the ways we can make sure our loved ones can remain connected to us even when hearing loss becomes an issue.
Restating and Rewording
When we need to repeat something to a person with normal hearing, we can usually repeat ourselves with more volume and be understood. For those with hearing loss, however, things work a little differently. As our voices get louder and louder, they may actually distort, and make hearing even more difficult.
It’s okay to put more volume into our voices, but yelling is not likely to help. We can increase the volume in our voice, and try restating what we’re trying to communicate in different words. Those with hearing loss rely a lot on context clues and piecing bits of information together to form coherent sentences. By using different words, we’re providing them with more raw information that might help them get the picture.
Speaking Slowly and Clearly
Sometimes we have a tendency, when speaking more slowly, to draw out vowel sounds and end up slurring our words. This can create more confusion. What can be helpful is to put a little more space between our words, and be sure to enunciate clearly, paying extra attention to the way our consonants sound.
Hearing loss tends to take away our ability to hear high frequencies before lower ones, and consonant sounds are differentiated mostly by their high-frequency content. A person with mild-moderate hearing loss may not have too much trouble distinguishing between an “ay” sound and an “ee” sound, but “dee” and “tee” may pose a challenge. It can help to put more effort into clearly enunciating our “dees and tees.”
Paying Attention to Visibility
Those with hearing loss often start to read lips without even thinking about it. They may not even realize they’re spending more time looking at our lips than our eyes, and they may not understand that they hear better when they can see clearly.
If you’re talking with someone who has hearing loss, make sure to be at a close enough distance that they can see you clearly. (This will also help them to hear you better!) Keep your mouth visible, and ensure that there’s plenty of light in the space.
Removing Distractions and Background Sound
Background noise makes it significantly harder to hear speech, even for those who do not have hearing loss. If you’re talking with someone with hearing loss, try to minimize sonic distractions. Try to converse away from air conditioners or other noise sources, and make sure the TV or radio is off or muted. If you’re planning to meet them in a public place, try to choose a place that tends to be quieter.
Similarly, make sure you’re not chewing gum or otherwise interfering with the sound of your voice or the visibility of your lips. Turn your phone on silent and set it aside to avoid reflexively looking at it while you talk.
Ask For Guidance
If someone has lived with hearing loss for a while, they probably know a few tricks that are especially helpful for them. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like you to do to make communication easier.
If your loved one is not yet wearing hearing aids, it can be good to bring up the idea. It’s best not to do this too forcefully or to tell them flat-out, “You need hearing aids,” but it’s okay to ask a gentle question like, “Have you given any more thought to getting a hearing test?” If they seem to be in denial about their hearing loss, try doing some online research about how to talk to your loved one about hearing aids, and present them with some helpful information that can help them see just how beneficial hearing aids could be for them.
If you or a loved one is in need of a hearing test, make an appointment today with our team at the Hearing Health Center of Houston and find out what hearing aids can do to improve your communication!