How Does a Hearing Impairment Affect Your Ability to Communicate?
Communication is what brings people together. It’s how we interact with one another, how we make friends and build relationships. The ability to communicate is absolutely essential in our everyday lives. If someone has a hearing impairment, their ability to communicate effectively is also impaired.
Here at Attune, we deal with a lot of patients who find it hard to initially adjust to life with a hearing impairment. So, we have created a comprehensive guide to let you know how a hearing impairment affects your communication and strategies you can use to ensure you can still chime into everyday conversations.
Although there are many causes of hearing loss, the most common by far is presbycusis, which is caused by the natural aging of the auditory system. Presbycusis is a progressive, sensorineural hearing impairment that affects the cochlea hair cells in the inner ear.
Individuals who have presbycusis struggle to hear the high-frequency range of sounds. In the speech, these include consonant sounds such as ‘s’, ‘th’, ‘f’, ‘k’ and ‘sh’. These sounds tend to be found at the start and end of words, so the individual missing these sounds greatly impairs the clarity of what they hear. An example audiogram of a typical presbycusis hearing loss can be seen below, including the different speech letters which will become difficult to hear.
What Communication Problems Can a Hearing Impairment Cause?
With a person struggling for clarity in speech, their ability to communicate effectively may be impaired. They may start to mishear people as they speak, which leads sometimes to confusion and frustration, both for the listener (as they struggle to understand) and the speaker (who may be asked to repeat themselves several times). As this happens more and more frequently, this frustration can in turn lead to avoidance, as both parties seek to avoid the frustration caused by the difficulty in communicating.
For children with hearing impairments, they can suffer delays in speech and language development as a result of hearing loss, at a time when speech and language development is of utmost importance.
Why Is the Ability to Communicate So Important?
If an individual with a hearing impairment is avoiding social contact due to their difficulties communicating, they are at risk of social isolation, particularly those who are older with hearing loss. Social isolation has huge links with dementia due to a lack of neural stimulation from interacting with other people.
Hearing impairments can also lead to a breakdown of relationships, both friendly and romantic. Even long-term marriages can dissolve due to a lack of effective communication and frustration over a hearing loss. Hearing impairments can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life, which can lead to problems with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
How Can Hearing Aids Improve Communication?
Modern digital hearing aids are fitted to the individual’s hearing loss, providing amplification at the frequencies where they experience a hearing deficit. This improves hearing clarity and the comprehension and understanding of speech. Hearing aids have also been proven to improve the ease of listening, which can make the hearing aid wearer less anxious about spending time in social situations.
Hearing aid wearers are often more confident approaching conversations and are less likely to withdraw from social environments, reducing the chance of social isolation, and in turn, reducing their risk of associated problems such as depression, anxiety and dementia.
If you require a hearing aid fitting, book an appointment with one of our qualified Audiologists.
What Else Can Be Done to Improve Communication Skills?
It is important that the families of those with hearing impairments work with the individual to develop effective communication strategies. This will help to reduce the amount of the conversation that the person with the hearing loss will miss, leading to greater understanding and more successful interactions. Some examples of communication strategies include:
1. Ensure you are facing the person you are talking to.
The availability of visual cues is of paramount importance to a hearing impaired person. This way, if a word is missed they can use visual cues such as lip reading, facial expressions or body language to fill in the gaps.
2. Slow down your speech and speak clearly.
Speaking clearly provides the individual with hearing loss with as much audio information as possible to process what is being said. Slowing down your speech also gives the individual more time to process what is being said.
For an individual with hearing loss, it is important that you know how to work with your hearing loss to find hearing strategies that work for you. Some of these strategies include:
1. If you are speaking to someone new, don’t be afraid to tell them you have a hearing impairment.
Although this can be daunting, you will usually find people are far more understanding of your hearing loss if they know about it beforehand. This way, they are able to adapt their communication strategies and are less likely to become frustrated.
2. Be attentive – be sure the person knows you are listening to them.
By doing this, if you do miss something that was said, the person you are speaking to will know it is not through you ignoring them and will be more understanding of your difficulties.
3. Ask for clarification, and ask the person to slow down if necessary.
Again, the importance of the person you’re speaking to knowing about your hearing loss cannot be understated.
4. Use visual cues to supplement what you can hear.
Ensure you are seated in the best place to utilise visual cues. So, avoid poorly lit venues as they can reduce your visibility.
Even if you think you can’t lip read, you will surprise yourself with how much information you can miss out on if you can’t see someone’s face!
To Sum It Up
If you are an existing hearing aid wearer, speak to one of our Audiologists about how you can make the most of your hearing aids. Using hearing aids alongside all of these strategies will give you the best chance of hearing in challenging listening situations.
If you are due for a hearing aid fitting or require a hearing test, contact Attune today to book an appointment with one of our qualified Audiologists. We’re ready to help you on your hearing loss journey.