Hearing loss: What you and your family can do
Connection to and communication with other people is vital for our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Failure to communicate effectively can create relationship stress we just don’t need or want in our lives. So it’s important to make clear communication a priority, especially at home.
Add hearing loss to the equation and this stress is magnified.
If you or a family member has hearing loss, everyone feels the impact. The person with hearing loss may experience the feeling of being ignored, a sense of separation from family relationships, and isolation from daily family life. For family members of a person with hearing loss there is the frustration of having to repeat themselves, feelings of not being understood, and in some cases, having to deal with a loved one who they suspect suffers from hearing loss but who refuses to acknowledge the problem, or seek treatment.
So what can you do?
Firstly, see a hearing care professional for treatment, or encourage your loved one to do so. They are the only ones qualified to make an accurate assessment and suggest appropriate treatment options. Don’t delay getting a hearing test; every day is a new opportunity to communicate effectively with your loved ones.
Secondly, lay some ground rules for communication.
12 simple rules for better family communication
We can sometimes be lazy with our communication, and this is especially true within families. We’re often more casual with our close loved ones than we are at work or in social settings, which can cause unintentional issues. For example, even people with perfect hearing will have trouble understanding you when they’re in another room, you have your face turned away, or there is loud background noise. For those with hearing impairment, even whenusing hearing aids or other assistive devices, most people will struggle to understand speech in challenging listening conditions.
But there are things you and your family can do to improve your family communication and make living with hearing loss a lot easier. Here are some simple rules to follow.
If you have hearing loss:
- 1. Tell your friends and family about your hearing loss. The more people you tell, the more people there will be to help you cope.
- 2. Ask your friends and family to face you when they talk so that you can see their faces. If you watch their faces move and see their expressions, it may help you to understand them better.
- 3. Be aware of noise around you that can make hearing more difficult. For example, when you go to a restaurant don’t sit near the kitchen or near a band playing music.
- 4. Seek professional help. Most hearing care practitioners are experts at helping family members learn new communication strategies. And advice coming from a neutral third-party is often easier to accept than when it comes directly from a loved one.
- 5. Wear your hearing aids consistently. It shows you’re doing your part to enable effective communication.
If a family member has hearing loss:
- 6. When you want to talk to a family member with hearing loss, gently touch them to get their attention before speaking. Alternately, say their name and wait for them to look at you. This gives them the chance to concentrate on listening and if necessary, reduce background noise by muting the TV or turning off the radio.
- 7. Speak louder, but don’t shout. And more important, speak clearly, enunciating each syllable. This will help the person with hearing loss understand what you’re saying more than shouting would.
- 8. Add pauses to your speech. It’s a myth that slowing speech down dramatically and dragging out each word will help a person with hearing loss understand you better. It’s much more effective to slow speech down a bit by putting a slightly longer pause between each word.
- 9. Avoid one-word answers. For a person with hearing loss, a one-word ‘yes’ answer can sound strikingly similar to a one-word ‘no’ answer. This is especially true in situations where there is background noise, or when the listener can’t see the speaker’s face.
- 10. Get closer. In challenging hearing situations, like restaurants, parties or places with lots of background noise, position yourself so you are face-to-face. Resist the temptation to call out from another room; walk into the room and then talk at a normal level.
- 11. Rephrase, don’t repeat. If someone indicates they don’t understand what you’ve said, avoid saying the exact same thing again. Instead, rephrase the sentence so they have an opportunity to glean meaning from your different word choices.
- 12. The most important communication rule is to be forgiving when someone makes a mistake, or forgets any of the above rules. No one is perfect or intentionally trying to be rude.
Working together to improve communicate may be difficult for a while. It will take time for you to get used to watching people as they talk, and for people to get used to speaking louder and more clearly. Be calm, patient and continue to work together. Hearing better and improving your family connections is well worth the effort.