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Communication Tips

Communication Tips for the Family of those with Hearing Loss

Speaking to Someone With Hearing Loss

If you are an adult, aural/audiologic rehabilitation services will focus on adjusting to your hearing loss, making the best use of your hearing aids, exploring assistive devices that might help, managing conversations, and taking charge of your communication. Services can be individual, in small groups, or a combination of both.

Your hearing loss

It is important to understand your specific hearing loss. Sometimes it takes several discussions with your audiologist and with your family for things to “click.” By better understanding your hearing loss, you will gain new insights into why you think people are mumbling, why you “hear” but cannot “understand,” why you have difficulty with female voices, and the other questions you have been asking yourself for so long.

Your family’s understanding of your hearing loss

Your family does not know how you hear. What they do know is that you do not hear well! They know they use lots of energy trying to communicate with you. Sometimes, the audiologist will play a recording that simulates your hearing loss so that your family can understand better what you are going through.

What will your hearing aid do and what will it not do? When you have realistic expectations, it is easier to adjust to your hearing aid. Also, your audiologist should review how to take care of your aid, how to troubleshoot problems, and answer any of your questions. So much information is given to you at the time of the hearing aid fitting that it is difficult to absorb everything. Also, as you use your aid, more questions will come to mind.

Many audiologists take this opportunity to review different types of hearing aids and how they work. This helps you to understand why your kind of hearing aid was selected specifically for you. This review also helps family members understand that your hearing aid was a prescription for you. Often, well-meaning family members and friends keep bringing you ads for other kinds of hearing aids or talk about other friends who have “better” hearing aids because they do not understand that your hearing aid was chosen because it met the needs of your hearing loss and your common communication situations.

Learning to listen again

Even if you don’t have hearing aids but have discovered that you have a hearing loss, aural rehabilitation services can give you strategies to improve listening and increase your communication effectiveness. If you do have new hearing aids or a cochlear implant, your world will be full of sounds you forgot existed. You will be moving from what has become a quiet world back to the normally noisy world in which we all live. Through training and practice, you will acquire new listening habits.

Assistive listening devices

A hearing aid won’t wake you up when you are sleeping. A hearing aid may not help you in a theater. But, there are many other devices that can help, such as TV listening devices, personal FM systems to use in lectures, conference microphones, and telephone amplifiers. You can become acquainted with these devices and see how they can improve your social, family, and work life.

Using Visual Clues to Hear Better

Everyone uses their eyes to get clues about what people are saying, their mood, their interest in the topic of conversation, and so on. You probably are using your eyes even more to make up for what you cannot hear.

Speechreading training provides formal instruction in how speech sounds are made, which sounds look alike on the lips. Learning which words have the same mouth movement but very different meaning can be incredibly useful in increasing understanding of conversations. You can also gain a great deal of helpful information from following other visual clues like facial expression, gestures, body movement, and body language. For example, if you are not sure what was said, facial expression may help you figure out whether the speaker said, “I’m mad” or “I’m sad.” Broader observation of factors like the physical environment, the context of the conversation, and the people involved is also helpful in gaining information about what was said or what might likely be said next.

Audiologic rehabilitation provides the person with a hearing loss and his or her family with many listening strategies that can improve communication. Some of these are as follows:

Handling conversation

By learning to take charge of your communication assertively (not aggressively!), you can become a more effective communicator. There are ways to be assertive. You can ask people to get your attention before speaking to you, suggest that they face you, and ask them not to shout. Another way to be assertive is to learn and use strategies for handling communication breakdowns. Know when to ask for a “rephrase” instead of a “repeat,” know how to apply a clarification strategy, and learn how to ask questions.

Arrangement of your home

Now that you’ve learned more about your hearing loss, you may want to rearrange your furniture to promote easier conversation (and that full-face view mentioned above). You might wish to change lighting so you can better see your conversation partner’s face. Perhaps carpeting can be strategically placed to absorb noise. Maybe there are alerting devices that can help you identify when the doorbell rings.

Dealing with background noise outside the home

In a noisy restaurant, for example, request a table further away from the kitchen and clattering dishes. Seat yourself directly in front of your dining companion so that you can maximize your understanding of conversation.

If you suspect the person you are speaking with has a hearing loss, the following tips may enhance communication:

  • Sit or stand within three to six feet to maximize audibility
  • Remain at eye level to foster visual cues
  • Gain the person’s attention before speaking
  • Use facial expressions and gestures to give clues to the meaning of your message
  • Raise your voice but do not shout because loud speech may sound distorted
  • Speak slowly and distinctly
  • Use short, simple sentences
  • Rephrase your words if the person does not appear to understand or responds inappropriately
  • Avoid speaking directly into the person’s ear because it can distort your message and hide all visual clues

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