Many people believe that if someone has a hearing loss that getting hearing aids will allow them to hear everything. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. People with hearing loss often have difficulty understanding the words that are spoken even if the speech is made loud enough for them to hear the person speaking.
Clients will often come into my office and tell me that their spouse or partner will be talking to them while they are washing dishes, facing away from them or talking from a different room. This is a difficult situation for people with hearing loss even if they have hearing aids. Often, I am counseling my client’s significant other about how to communicate with someone who has a hearing loss. Here are some tips for making communication easier.
Gain the listener’s attention before you begin talking, for example, by saying his or her name. If the person with hearing loss hears better from one ear, move to that side of the person. If necessary, touch the listener’s hand, arm or shoulder lightly. This simple gesture will prepare the listener to listen and allow him or her to hear the first part of the conversation.
MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT
Face the person with hearing loss. Make eye contact. Your facial expressions and body language add vital information to the communication. For example, you can “see” a person’s anger, frustration, and excitement by watching the expression on his or her face.
KEEP HANDS AWAY FROM FACE
When talking, try to keep your hands away from your face. If you are a smoker, hold the cigarette in your hands while talking. You will produce clearer speech and allow the listener to make use of those visual cues.
AVOID COVERING OR CHANGING THE SHAPRE OF YOUR LIPS AND MOUTH
Most listeners make use of lip-reading. Lip-reading helps improve recognition of some sounds and speech that are more difficult and especially in difficult listening situations. To help with lip-reading, do not overdo or create odd lip shapes when applying lipstick, do not talk with food in your mouth and do not chew gum. Keep in mind that heavy beards and mustaches can also hide your mouth.
Speak distinctly, but without exaggeration. You do not need to shout. Shouting actually distorts the words. Try not to mumble, as this is very hard to understand, even for people with normal hearing. Speak at a normal rate, not too fast or too slow. Use pauses rather than slow speech to give the person time to process speech.
REPHRASE RATHER THEN REPEAT
If the listener has difficulty understanding something you said, find a different way of saying it. If he or she did not understand the words the first time, it’s likely he or she will not understand them a second time. So, try to rephrase it.
CONVERSE AWAY FROM BACKGROUND NOISE
Try to reduce background noises when conversing. Turn off the radio or television. Move to a quiet space away from the noise source. When going to a restaurant or making dinner reservations, ask for a table away from the kitchen, server stations or large parties.
MOVE TO AN AREA WITH GOOD LIGHTING
When in a restaurant or other social gathering, sit where there is good lighting so that your face can be more easily seen. Also, avoid strong lighting coming from behind you, such as through a window.
It takes time to change our habits and to learn to use these tools but it will definitely help you in communicating with someone with a hearing loss. Have patience and realize that hearing aids aren’t a cure but are definitely helpful.
Dr. Amy Swain is an Audiologist at Amy Swain Hearing Centers. She has been working with hearing aids for other 30 years in Southeastern Minnesota.