As the family member of someone with hearing loss, I think it’s easy to forget what life is like for them. You may get frustrated when they ask you to repeat things, or when trying to get their attention from another room, or trying to communicate in a noisy environment. Here are some things that I have learned over the years that have helped to make communication with my husband a lot easier for everyone:
- Try to always face the person with hearing loss while talking and avoid covering your face with your hands. Individuals with hearing loss often use visual cues to help them interpret speech correctly (such as reading lips). Make sure they can clearly see your face. Moving so that you are in front of them while speaking is important for good communication.
- Try to speak clearly with normal volume and pacing. When someone in your life has hearing loss it becomes more important to enunciate every word while speaking, but not to the point of being obnoxious. Avoid mumbling and speak at a normal or slightly elevated volume. There is no need to yell at a person with hearing loss, this can actually make it more difficult to hear what you’re saying as it changes the natural rhythm of your speech. It is also important to speak at a moderate pace. Speaking too quickly is difficult to follow, but there is also no need to speak ridiculously slowly. There is nothing wrong with their intelligence and speaking too slowly could be insulting to them even if that is not the intention.
- Get their attention before speaking. If you are in another room move closer to the person, or if you are speaking from the same room try to say the person’s name before proceeding with your conversation. This helps to prime the person to direct their attention your way and they won’t miss the first few words of what you are saying.
- Pay attention to your partner in social settings and help them out. Not everyone speaks as clearly as those with hearing loss would like. I’ve learned to read my husband’s body language to tell when he hasn’t quite picked up on what was being said. Technology has improved immensely in hearing aids, but some situations are still challenging such as crowded restaurants and parties. Try subtly rephrasing key points of the conversation or clearly asking the person with hearing loss a question about the topic being discussed to bring them into the conversation.
- Situate yourself strategically in restaurants or crowded rooms. Most hearing aids these days have directional microphones so that the person with hearing loss is able to hear what is happening in front of them (usually speaking with someone) more clearly than what is going on behind them. So in a restaurant setting allow them to grab the seat where their back will be facing most of the noise.
- Be patient. When a person with hearing loss asks you to repeat something they are not doing it to be annoying. They legitimately have not heard what you said. Hearing aids help a great deal but they are not perfect so make sure you respond to the person with kindness and patience and repeat what you have said and make sure they have understood you. Sometimes rephrasing what you have said can be helpful as different words may be easier for the person to hear.
Putting yourself in your loved-one’s shoes is an important aspect of living and interacting with someone with hearing loss. Try some of the tips above to help make their day a little easier.