How Do You Support Someone With Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is the second most common health condition in Australia, albeit it is an invisible one. Not only does this affect one in six people, but you also cannot tell by looking at someone, who these people are. With such a large number of people experiencing hearing difficulties, it is essential that we understand how to provide help to those with hearing loss and communicate with them effectively.
Hearing loss can make life challenging at times and not just for the person with the impairment. However, with the right support from partners, friends and coworkers, those who experience hearing difficulties can better navigate their experience and find more happiness than people who suffer alone.
Today we’ll help you understand the impacts of hearing loss and how to help those with hearing loss.
How to help those with hearing loss?
Learning what it is like to live with a hearing impairment can help those with hearing loss. If you find that you are becoming increasingly frustrated, it is important to maintain empathy and attempt to relate to what your significant other is facing with hearing loss which in turn, can increase your patience.
Talk to your loved ones, share a conversation with them in which you ask questions to better sympathise with their experience or understand their personal communication needs. Your response to your partner’s hearing loss can influence how well they accept their loss and successfully adjust to treatment such as hearing aids.
Here are some suggestions to increase their awareness and acceptance of their hearing loss!
1. Encourage early assessment and intervention of hearing loss
If your loved one refuses treatment, share how their hearing loss is affecting you. Instead of consistently commenting on the person’s inability to hear and losing your temper, it’s more helpful to discuss what you can both do to improve the miscommunication and show your support to help with their hearing loss.
2. Be helpful, but don’t enable problematic behaviours
You may believe you are supporting a loved one by acting as their ‘ears’ (i.e. narrating conversations, filling in gaps or translating whole interactions). It is essential to recognise the difference between providing support and enabling a person.
Hearing loss is an impairment that is unlikely to improve on its own and consequently, untreated hearing loss can cause a variety of chronic health problems, specifically associated with cognitive and mental health disorders like dementia and depression.
3. Help provide education on treatment
There is a lot of negative stigma around hearing treatment however, intervention for hearing loss is in a very exciting space with technological advances continuously developing. Hearing devices are more individualised and adaptable than ever, with Audiologists able to offer a variety of resources beyond the fitting of an aid.
4. Attending appointments with your loved one
Audiologists and hearing health care professionals prefer partners or family members to attend appointments to generate a shared understanding of hearing loss and its effects. As communication is a two-way street, the audiologist can counsel not just the person with the impairment but also their loved ones on strategies to support successful communication skills. This also attempts to help the hearing partner understand what the person with hearing loss is experiencing.
Even a typically hearing person can mishear at times therefore, a person with a hearing impairment will continue to experience hearing difficulties, even with a hearing device. You need to remember that this is normal and to be anticipated as hearing aids can assist a person, but ultimately, it does not cure the underlying hearing loss. In turn, communicating with loved ones who are hearing impaired is slightly more demanding than speaking to a hearing individual.
5. Discuss the individual needs of your partner
It is recommended that you need to take part responsibility to maintain successful communication, therefore sit down with your partner and find out exactly what they need, and what they are comfortable with, in terms of support.
6. Gain their attention before speaking
It seems very simple but one of the most significant ways to help with hearing loss is to obtain their attention before you start speaking. This simple gesture can assist the person to feel engaged and gives them the ability to see your lips from the start, facilitating success and not having to play catch up throughout the conversation.
7. Face the person
You would be surprised how often we start or continue to communicate with others while facing away or from another room. Particularly when interacting with those who have hearing loss, make sure you face them. Your face provides extra clues about what you are saying, and the volume of your voice tends to be louder. Do not cover or hold objects in front of your mouth, as this will also make it hard for a person with a hearing impairment to read your lips.
8. Limit the amount of distractions and background noise
Background noise is the biggest complaint those with hearing loss have. Restaurants or places with complex acoustic backgrounds can be especially challenging therefore, finding a quieter restaurant to dine in with soft furnishings to help absorb the noise or limiting additional noises within the home such as turning off the television, closing windows/doors leading onto a busy road.
9. Speak clearly and don’t shout
It can also be effective to enunciate words and speak more slowly. Shouting will only make your voice distorted and hard to understand so attempt to speak clearly and if necessary, slightly slower than normal. Please note that individuals who wear hearing devices can experience extreme discomfort if others shout at them.
10. Reduce the distance between you and the person
The ideal listening distance for a person with a hearing impairment is less than two meters from the speaker. This allows the communication to be loud enough but also reduces the microphone limitations of hearing devices, as their microphones are only effective when within two meters of the preferred sound signal.
11. Rephrase the sentence
Rephrase and shorten what you are saying if you need to. If you are asked to repeat something you said, repeat it once – if this is still not understood, shorten the phrase into steps or think of another way to say the same thing. Despite your best efforts, there may be times when what has been said has not been understood by the person with a hearing loss – be patient and don’t give up by saying it doesn’t matter.
12. Use physical cues
Physical clues can paint a better picture of what’s being said. A lot of additional information can be gained from facial expressions and natural hand gestures. These are useful but are not to be exaggerated. Unnecessary hand movements or physical movements can also be very distracting.
13. Speaking clearly on the phone
When calling someone with hearing loss, make sure you speak directly into the mouthpiece (but don’t hold it too close) and remove as much background noise as you can. Make it clear who is calling and what the conversation is about. Be prepared to be patient and when requested, repeat and rephrase what you have said without frustration.
14. Be an advocate
Showing your support is to be an advocate for your loved one with a hearing loss. It can be particularly daunting for a person with hearing loss to participate in group situations, due to the background noise.
Educate others on tips and tactics to help foster more successful communication with your loved one who has a hearing loss. On a more general level, you can always provide feedback to institutions or venues on how they could improve their services for people who are hard of hearing.
15. Commit to being a communication partner
Good communication partners recognise that they are joint partners on a journey. Individuals who have hearing loss need the help of their partners and professionals to re-learn how to participate successfully in the hearing world. Hearing devices are just the equipment but partners can help to manipulate their behaviour and the environment to create positive and successful interactions.
16. Have patience
Above all, please be patient! Give your loved ones and family members a chance to communicate. Slow down from your busy lives and keep your significant others involved in the conversation. They are trying their best and really do want to talk to you.
In A Nutshell
Hearing loss is typically viewed by most as an individual disability, with the process of diagnosis and fitting of hearing aids significantly surrounding the person concerned. What most people may not realise is that the experience of hearing loss is shared with and managed by both the person with the hearing impairment and their partner and/or family.
Partners, in particular, can play an instrumental role in identifying hearing loss and increasing awareness of the impairment. They are also a crucial source of support, despite at times having trouble making the necessary constant adjustments to help with their loved ones’ hearing loss.
If you are concerned about your partner or family member, give your local Attune audiologist a call at 1300 736 702 or book an appointment online. Our team will be happy to assist and provide you with some strategies to help support your loved ones with hearing loss.