Hearing loss is one of the most common medical concerns we might have as we age, yet it is sorely undertreated. Only one out of five people who need hearing aids is currently wearing them, and it takes an average of seven years from the time a person notices a hearing loss to the time they make an appointment for a hearing test. Untreated hearing loss can make communication very difficult, and some hearing loss may be so severe that hearing aids do not completely solve communication issues.
If you’ve been struggling to communicate with a loved one who has hearing loss, here are a few things you can keep in mind to make communication more effective.
Hearing loss causes the biggest problems when background noise is present. It’s hard for a person with hearing loss to separate the sounds of speech from other environmental noise. By taking this into consideration, you’ll be set up for success.
If you’re going out to a restaurant or bar, try to choose a place that has a quieter atmosphere. If you’re not sure of the places that will work in your area, you might consider downloading the SoundPrint app, which keeps a database of the volume levels in different establishments and allows you to contribute.
If you’re meeting your loved one at your home or theirs, you’ll have a lot more control over the environment. Make sure you’re seated away from noise sources, the television is off or muted, don’t play background music, and try to converse in a room with low reverberance.
Light Matters, Too
Hearing loss makes people automatically start to read lips. Accordingly, you’ll want to spend time with them in a well-lit environment, facing across from one another. If one position is better-lit than another, situate such that your face has the most light falling on it. For example, if the sun has to fall in someone’s eyes, let it be your eyes.
Many of us have a tendency to increase the volume of our voices and slow down our speech when talking to a person who we know to have hearing loss. While this can be good in theory, there are better ways to do it than others.
Speak Louder, but Don’t Shout
Speaking more loudly is a good idea, but not if it means breaking out of your normal speaking voice. Yelling or shouting can cause hearing aids or unaided ears to distort, which makes the problem worse. Usually, we end up yelling because we have said the same thing a number of times and the other person still hasn’t heard us clearly. Instead of repeating the same thing louder and louder, try saying it a different way when you’re asked to repeat yourself. This will give your loved one more information to work with and they’ll be more likely to understand you.
Face Them When You Speak
Similarly, don’t try to converse from another room, or with your back turned. If your loved one is having hearing issues, they’ll likely need to see your face in order to make sense of what you’re saying effectively. This also has the benefit of making your voice clearer, since you’ll be speaking toward them.
Speak Slower, with Pauses
The biggest problem for those with hearing loss is distinguishing between consonant sounds, which are differentiated more by high-frequency energy than vowel sounds are. Often when we slow our speech, our natural inclination is to draw out vowel sounds, but this is unnecessary and can be confusing. Try placing slightly longer pauses between your words, instead. This gives your loved one a chance to clearly hear the beginnings and endings of words, and gives them a little more space to mentally guess which consonant sounds they’re hearing.
Remember to Ask Questions
It may seem obvious, but it’s possible your loved ones have figured out some conversational or environmental accommodations that work best for them. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them understand you better, and they’ll probably have an idea or two!