Even with hearing aids, many people struggle with communication, particularly in a noisy environment. Good communication strategies can help those who struggle with their hearing, either with or without hearing aids.
Hearing aids are only part of the solution for someone with a hearing loss. Effective communication requires a partnership between the person with hearing loss and those they are communicating with. Here are some things that you can do to make communication easier when talking to someone with a hearing loss.
1. Cut Down on the Background Noise
If there is music or a TV on, turning this down or off can help. If you are in a noisy environment, try moving to a quieter location for your conversation. If you can position yourselves so that the hearing impaired person has most of the noise behind them, that can also help, particularly if they wear hearing aids with directional microphones.
2. Reduce the distance between you
The further your voice has to travel to reach the listener, the more distorted or degraded the sound can become. Sound does not travel well through walls or around corners. This makes it harder to understand what is said for all of us, but even harder for someone with a hearing loss. Always make sure you are in the same room before starting a conversation. Ideally, you should about 1 metre apart. Even with hearing aids it isn’t realistic for a person with hearing loss to be able to follow a conversation with someone in another room.
3. Face the listener
If you are facing the person you are speaking to, the sound of your voice will be travelling towards them, not away from them, making it easier for them to hear you. In addition, we all get some clues about what is being said from watching people’s faces, particularly for soft sounds, or when we are in a noisy situations.
4. Always get their attention before you start to speak
Even with hearing aids, someone with a hearing loss is unlikely to hear everything clearly all the time. They are therefore going to need to fill in some of the gaps using the context of the sentence. If they miss the beginning of the sentence because they don’t know you are speaking to them, filling in the gaps is a lot more difficult.
5. Speak slowly and clearly
Shouting doesn’t make it easier for you to be heard. It only makes your voice distorted and harder for a hearing impaired person to understand you. Speak slowly and clearly, without raising your voice. Remember to make sure you are facing the person you are speaking to.
If your communication partner hasn’t understood what you said, or missed something, repeating exactly the same words may not make it easier. If you can find another way of saying the same thing, they will have a better chance of understanding.
7. Don’t dismiss
Often when a person with a hearing loss miss hears or asks for repeats the speaker can become frustrated as cut off communication by saying things like “never mind” or “it doesn’t matter”. Communication DOES matter and while it can be frustrating at times, dismissing a section of conversation isolates a person with hearing loss and can cause lasting damage to not only the relationship but also their self esteem and sense of worth.
Good communication can be hard work and it can require conscious effort on both the part of the listener and the speaker. Hearing loss can make this more challenging but it need not be the end of quality conversation and social interaction. If you need more advice or are struggling with communication your audiologist is specifically trained to help both you and your family and friends with these challenges.