With nearly 1 in 6 people having some degree of hearing loss, you may know someone with impaired hearing. Living with hearing loss can be an overwhelming experience. Hearing is essential for communication which is not only foundational for relationships but also tied to how we navigate everyday life. If you have a loved one with hearing loss, there are specific and simple ways you can provide support. Knowing a bit about what people with hearing loss often wish others knew can provide you with more insight and concrete strategies for useful support.
- Hearing loss is challenging. Hearing loss can be exhausting. It reduces a person’s ability to absorb and process speech as well as sound. This produces a range of symptoms that impact communication including – tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing noise in the ears), sounds are slurred or muffled, and difficulty hearing in environments with background noise. This often forces the brain to work harder in trying to hear which requires greater energy, attention, and focus. This can lead to listening fatigue and exhaustion after conversations and social interactions. It is important to know about this additional work and time it takes to hear and engage in conversations.
- I am not ignoring you. People often report feeling ignored or unheard by their loved one with hearing loss. This may be due to lack of immediate response and active engagement during conversations. But the person with hearing loss may be struggling to hear, exerting significant energy in trying to follow the conversation, and taking more time to process what is being said. Not understanding these cues and context can cause people to feel brushed off or like the person is not listening. This can strain relationships by producing tension and distance. Being more aware of how people with hearing loss navigate conversations can alleviate misunderstandings and create more space to engage in effective communication.
- Avoid speaking for me. As a shortcut during a conversation, you may speak for your loved one with hearing loss. For example, if you are at a restaurant and you are ordering and the waiter asks a question but your loved one does not hear, you may just answer for them. But it is important to know that this could make them feel small or demened. Rather, repeat what was said because they may have just missed it. This provides them with an opportunity to respond and speak for themselves. Be sure to use this strategy in social settings which can help your loved one navigate conversations more easefully.
- Hearing aids take time to adjust to. Hearing aids are electronic hearing devices that help absorb and process speech as well as sound. This provides ample support, maximizing one’ s hearing capacity. But hearing aids do take time to adjust to and fully become comfortable with. They are unlike glasses in that glasses are worn and vision is immediately improved. With hearing aids, there is definitely an adjustment period. This is because the ears and brain have to get used to this new way of hearing. Also, with hearing aids, people hear sounds they likely haven’t heard in quite some time. So the ears and brain need time to acclimate to new soundscapes. Be sure to be patient and understanding of this which can go a long way!
- Simple communication strategies can help. There are several strategies you can use to support effective communication including:
- Grab loved one’s attention before speaking. You can do this by simply calling their name or tapping them on the shoulder.
- Face them so that you are visible. This helps provide access to nonvernabl cues which is a useful way to follow a conversation.
- Rephrase rather than repeat. Using a new set of words can increase speech comprehension.
- Avoid yelling or projecting your voice which can further distort speech.
- Speak in a normal tone and take natural pauses during the conversation.
- Regularly check-in and ask if you can clarify anything or make any adjustments.
- Reduce background noise as much as possible.
- Avoid multitasking which can be distracting and create additional noise to have to process.
These strategies support their hearing and help create conditions for effective