Hearing loss is one of the most common health concerns to affect Americans today. While it can affect people of all ages, most progressive hearing loss affects seniors. About one-third of those aged 60–74 have hearing loss, and about half of those aged 75 and up have it. While it is often a disorienting and troubling experience to start losing our hearing, it is quite common to adjust to the reality of hearing loss and continue to live the lifestyle we prefer.
Perhaps the biggest problem with hearing loss is the difficulty it presents when attempting to communicate with others. Here are a few tips to help you communicate better once hearing loss has become an issue in your life.
Know What Works
Everyone’s hearing loss is a little different. It may take some time for you to figure out the strategies and accommodations that work best for you, but here are some ideas to experiment with.
- Make sure people face you when they speak. This can help you read their lips.
- When choosing seats, make sure the other person’s face gets as much light as possible, so you can see them clearly.
- Reduce background sound, or ask others to reduce background sound, whenever possible.
- Use writing as often as possible. For example, some things that could be communicated over the telephone might be easier to understand in an email.
- When planning an outing, choose a space with good light and minimal background sound.
- Arrange the furniture in your home such that people can be seated closer to you. Every extra bit of distance makes another person’s voice quieter, and their lips harder to read.
Be an Educator
While hearing loss is quite common, there are still many misconceptions amongst the normal-hearing public about what hearing loss is like for a person who has it. You may need to ask others to change the way they try to accommodate you, from time to time.
- Remind people not to shout. Speaking a little louder is fine, but shouting can actually distort the sound, making it more difficult to understand, and also makes lip reading more difficult.
- Many people have a tendency to speak slower to try to accommodate hearing loss. While this can be helpful, it should be done by adding a little extra space between their words, not by drawing out their vowel sounds.
- Remind people to make sure they have your attention before they start speaking. Similarly, ask them not to try to speak to you from a different room.
- Ask people to face you when they speak. Similarly, they should not cover their mouths, chew gum, or otherwise interfere with your ability to read their lips.
Tell Other People About It!
The most effective communication strategies for those with hearing loss rely on cooperation from a conversational partner. Most people will be happy to accommodate the needs of a hearing-impaired person, but hearing loss is an invisible disability. You need to tell people about it for them to know that you can’t hear them well.
The most effective strategy for disclosing hearing loss accomplishes two things at the same time: 1) disclosing hearing loss, and 2) providing an instruction for how the other person can help you hear them better.
Let’s say you’re about to order at a restaurant, and your server has just said something that you didn’t hear clearly. An example of effective disclosure could be, “I didn’t catch that—I’m hard of hearing. Can you face me when you speak, and talk a little louder, please?”
Get a Set of Hearing Aids
Hearing aids are the best thing you can do to improve your ability to communicate with others. While good communication strategies are important, actually improving your ability to hear may be the most important part of navigating the world with hearing loss. Some hearing aids today can even, for some people, improve hearing in some situations to better than normal.
Most hearing aids today have the ability to distinguish between speech and background sound. Many can enhance sound directionally—sounds coming from in front of you will be louder than sounds from the sides or from behind. They connect wirelessly via Bluetooth to smartphones and other gadgets to enhance phone calls, video calls, and media content. T-coil hearing aids can pick up the sounds from PA systems in lecture halls, houses of worship, and more.
If you or a loved one is in need of hearing aids, make an appointment for a hearing test today and get started on your journey toward better communication!