Communicating with Your Loved Ones who Have Hearing Loss

November 16, 2022
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Navigating conversations can be challenging for people with hearing loss. Nearly 1 in 8 people have some degree of impaired hearing which reduces capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. Even with hearing aids which are the most common treatment option for hearing loss, communication can still require more effort and attention. Fortunately, there are useful ways you can provide support. Using active listening skills and effective communication strategies cna make conversation much more accessible, supporting your loved one with hearing loss. Practicing the following strategies can help make communication much more easeful.

  • Face the person. It is important to face your loved one with hearing loss while speaking. This allows you to be totally visible which provides access to nonverbal cues and communication including: facial expressions, body language, movements etc. These nonverbal cues provide context, amplify what you are saying, and help people follow along. In addition to facing the person, it is also useful to grab their attention before starting a conversation. There are simple ways you can do this including saying their name or tapping them on the shoulder. This allows them to be ready for the conversation and tuned in from the beginning. So avoid yelling out from another room or starting a conversation while you both are doing other things.

  • Reduce background noise. Background noise can be distracting for anyone, including people without hearing loss. Excess noise means additional sounds the brain has to process which creates more work. The brain exerts more effort and works overtime in trying to process all the sounds in the environment. Reducing background noise as much as possible is a useful way to get rid of distracting noises. You can practice ways to reduce background noise as much as possible by: powering off any electronic devices that are not being used like the TV, avoiding using appliances like washer/dryer while having a conversation with your loved, keeping music on low volume settings, avoiding restaurants that are noisy especially during peak hours, opting for quieter places where having a conversation is easier etc.

  • Do not multitask. In addition to background noise, multitasking can also be distracting. It is common for people to multitask while having conversations with loved ones – cooking, cleaning, texting etc. But these activities not only contribute to more sound one has to take in but it can also prevent you from being visible. These activities can block your mouth and cut down on nonverbal signaling which can make it more challenging to follow what you are saying. Multitasking also prevents you from being fully present and engaged. This creates a lack of attention that can make conversations tough to navigate. It is important to avoid multitasking as much as possible so that you can be fully present during the conversation.

  • Rephrase rather than repeat. Another communication strategy that can be really helpful is rephrasing rather than repeating. If your loved one is struggling to hear and process something you’ve said, try using a new set of words. Sometimes, people can struggle with specific sounds and pitches so using new words creates more space and possibility to pick-up what you are saying. Avoid using the exact same words and repeating yourself which isn’t always helpful.

  • Know what to avoid. People can often make assumptions about how to communicate with a person who has hearing loss. A common misconception is that you can simply project your voice, speaking louder, which helps them hear better. But this can actually make hearing more difficult. Increasing your volume can further distort and muffle sound. It is important to know what you should avoid, in addition to projecting your voice, avoid the following:

  • Speaking for your loved one. Rather, rephrase what is being said by another person and allow them to respond.

  • Limited seating options. It is important to have accessible seating, which is especially useful for having conversations in public spaces. This includes seating that is not near fans, speakers, the kitchen, bathroom, and other noisy spots.

  • Blocking visibility. Be sure to be visible to your loved one so avoid speaking with your mouth full, doing activities that block or reduce your body language etc.

In addition to these strategies, it is important to pay attention and check-in. Be sure to ask your loved one if they need any clarification or if there are adjustments you can make to support their hearing. Your support is invaluable!