Most of us have our eyes checked on a regular basis and aren’t too bothered by the idea of wearing glasses. Why is it, then, that we have such a negative view of hearing loss and hearing aids? They are both sensory deficits, but one is much more easily accepted than the other. And it’s not because hearing loss is a rare condition, in fact, according to Stats Can, 20% of adults live with a mild hearing loss. It is, however, a health concern that is often unrecognized and undertreated, especially in the elderly. Most people don’t want to talk about it, so I would like to break that silence! Let’s talk about hearing loss!
Why is hearing loss important to me? I am not a health professional, I have no formal education or training with regards to hearing loss and I have normal hearing. My interest comes from a personal perspective. Nine years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with a moderate-severe bilateral hearing loss. As you would imagine, it was a devastating and shocking diagnosis and we were extremely fearful of what that would mean for our daughter and her future. Over the years, I have learned so much about the subject and am using our experience to educate others.
Of course, the first thing to do if you suspect that someone has hearing loss is to address the issue, visit an audiologist to have the hearing tested and then consult with a specialist to get hearing aids that will help increase access to sound. This can be the most difficult step especially when dealing with the elderly and hearing loss. They are more resistant to accepting help and often have the attitude that hearing loss is a normal part of aging. While it is true that adults 60-79 years old are significantly more likely to have hearing loss, it doesn’t have to be something that impedes their daily activities.
While hearing aids will help, there are many strategies that we have learned over the years that help us communicate better with our hearing impaired child. Perhaps they can also help you when communicating with your hearing impaired loved one! In fact, these are tips that we can use when communicating with anyone!
Eye contact & normal speech
People with hearing loss often rely on both listening and lip reading to understand conversation. It is very important to face the person and to speak normally. Exaggerated pronunciation or speaking too loudly or slowly can worsen the issue. Speaking at a normal pace and volume but pronouncing clearly are always helpful.
Set up for success!
If you are speaking with someone who has hearing loss, it is important to set yourself up for success. Minimize background noise. Turn off the radio or TV when you are speaking so that it is easier to understand. Before beginning, say the person’s name to make sure your loved one is paying attention. This cues them to focus and pay attention.
Items that cover the speaker’s mouth make it more difficult for someone with hearing loss to understand. Scarves, mustaches, hands in front of your face, or anything that gets in the way of a clear view of the mouth can interfere with the person’s ability to understand what is being said.
Repeat and don’t give up!
If you are trying to say something and the person isn’t understanding, repeat it, but by using different words. Don’t use the same words, find another way to say the same thing. Most importantly, do not say “Never mind”, or “It’s not important”. This type of reaction is very hurtful and disrespectful to the person listening. You had something to say and it was important enough to communicate it, so please try again!
Be open about the situation. Ask the person how you can make it easier for them to understand you. Make sure that those around your loved one know about the hearing loss. This will avoid awkward situations where people feel they are being ignored or “snubbed” because they aren’t being answered. Knowledge is power!
Avoid noisy situations, where hearing can be difficult. While this is a good strategy, it isn’t always feasible. If you are going to be in an environment where it will be noisy, assure your loved one that you will be there to help. When in a group conversation, help the person by repeating what is being said or prompting them to answer when they haven’t heard something. Noisy situations can be draining for someone who is hearing impaired. Find a quiet place where you can take a break from the noise.
When speaking in a group, take turns. This gives people a chance to focus their attention on the right speaker and not miss anything. Avoid interrupting others or cutting people off, as this makes it very difficult to follow along.
There are numerous devices available to those with hearing loss to help them be comfortable and safe. Simple things like FM systems, closed captioning for TV, and telephones with amplified sound can make every day life more enjoyable. In addition, there are safety devices that will alert the person with a flashing light or by vibrating the person’s bed if the fire alarm goes off, or if the phone or doorbell rings.
Patience and encouragement
Most of all be patient and encouraging. Hearing aids are not perfect and living with hearing loss can be very frustrating, but by being supportive and patient, you can help your loved one deal with any issues they may be experiencing.
These are just some of the tips that can help to make communication more effective. It is crucial to address the issue if you suspect someone is hearing impaired and is ignoring it. When left untreated, hearing loss can lead to depression, social isolation and even safety issues. This is especially true in seniors, where, untreated hearing loss can cause communication difficulties and impaired ADLs and IADLs. Imagine for a moment, an elderly person living at home and not being able to hear the doorbell ring when family is there to visit, or not being able to communicate on the phone with a grandchild. This is very unfortunate given the tools and technology available to those with a loss that can help facilitate day-to-day activities. You can be part of breaking the stigma!
Note: This article is for informative purposes only. Always check with a medical professional.