March 27, 2019
There is a fairly common saying out in the world: “Communication goes both ways.” Usually it is used when you are trying to get a friend to return your calls or when someone is feeling ignored, but it is very apt in regards to hearing loss as well. It is well known in the hearing industry that when someone has a hearing loss, their family and friends do too.
This isn’t to say that everyone is hard-of-hearing; it simply implies that anyone can be affected by a hearing loss, not just the hard-of-hearing individual. Spouses, children, close friends, parents all struggle to communicate when one of them has a hearing loss and this makes hearing loss a family struggle. That is why it is so important for the family and friends of those with hearing loss to be aware that communication goes both ways and it is just as important for them to adapt to a hearing loss and utilize strategies to make communication easier for everyone involved as it is for the hard-of-hearing family member to do something to assist their hearing.
As a communication partner to a loved one with hearing loss, you have several strategies to make communication easier and less stressful for everyone involved. For example, shouting doesn’t help! Louder is not always better; typically, a hard-of-hearing individual needs clarity over volume, so speak slower, more clearly, and – if necessary – only a little bit louder.
Another strategy involves seating arrangements. If you know you are going to a busy restaurant, see if you can get a booth or table next to a wall and have the hard-of-hearing individual sit with their back against the wall. Walls don’t produce sounds on their own, so that eliminates some of the background noise that your loved one may struggle with. Also, be sure that your face is well-lit and that your back is not to a sunny window. Everyone reads lips to some degree and having your face in shadow makes that more difficult.
If you are having a conversation and your loved one seems to be struggling to follow, check in with them. They may have missed a key phrase or word and were too embarrassed to speak up or did not feel they were able to interrupt. If your loved one asks you to repeat something more than once, do not get annoyed and please don’t say “Nevermind” and end the conversation! They are just as frustrated as you are, so instead of saying the same thing over and over, try rephrasing the sentence or using a different word. Sometimes it is just a certain sound in a word that makes it hard to hear or understand.
Something that many people don’t realize is that struggling to listen can be exhausting. When your brain struggles to hear and understand conversations around you, it puts forth a lot of energy and you will likely tire of social events more quickly than those with normal hearing. If your loved one is hard-of-hearing, be aware of their needs and know they may need to leave an event sooner than you.
There are many strategies a family member or friend can utilize to make listening an easier and more enjoyable experience for those with hearing loss. Hearing loss can be very isolating and the more support an individual has, the closer to a normal life they can lead. As we said in the beginning, communication goes both ways and while it is up to the hard-of-hearing individual to speak up when they’re struggling, it is also up to their loved ones to assist in whatever ways they can to make communication as simple as possible.
Another great way to assist your loved ones is to attend their hearing appointments with them! This gives you the opportunity to share your side of your communicative relationship and learn some techniques and strategies to make your communication more successful. We’ve found your perspective and support is an invaluable resource for your loved one as a patient, and for us as providers.
Having a familiar voice is wonderfully useful during the testing and consultation process, as the doctors can dial in on your voice in particular. Besides that, finding out we have a hearing loss is difficult for most, meaning a close friend or family member nearby is the best support anyone can ask for.
If your loved ones have an upcoming appointment, see if you can tag along. They’ll appreciate the comfort of a familiar voice (even if they don’t admit it!), and you’ll learn more about hearing loss, the testing process, and your communicative relationship.
Fun Hearing Fact: How do we locate where a sound is coming from? In the same way that we use two eyes to perceive depth, we use two ears to locate the origin of sounds. The left ear receives sound waves coming from the left slightly faster than the right ear does and the brain processes this in such a way that you know which direction the sound came from.