Hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to absorb and process sound which makes communication challenging. One of the most common chronic medical conditions, hearing loss produces a range of symptoms that strains communication. This includes: tinnitus (buzzing or ringing noise in the ears), sound is slurred or muffled, difficulty following conversations – especially in environments with background noise etc. These symptoms can be experienced mildly to profoundly and serve as barriers to effective communication.
The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which are electronic devices designed to amplify and process incoming information. Though this significantly improves hearing, people still have to learn how to best engage in communication with this new apparatus. This can be overwhelming to navigate but there are ways to maximize communication that allows you to engage with greater ease. There are numerous strategies that you can practice to facilitate effective communication, including the following:
Face the Speaker
It is important that you have a complete view of the person speaking so that you can access nonverbal cues which are incredibly helpful in providing context throughout a conversation. This includes facial expressions, body language, movements etc. You want to make sure that you are facing the speaker and maintaining a comfortable distance that allows you to both hear and see. You should also grab the person’s attention, or have them grab your attention, before beginning a conversation. This allows you to be ready and present to speak as well as listen.
It is common to do other things while having a conversation: eat, drink, drive, clean etc. But even with the help of hearing aids, it requires more effort and energy to listen and process sound. This means that you should be as focused, present, and undistracted as possible. You should avoid multitasking – texting, watching television, cooking etc. – which can divert your attention from the conversation. You want to be fully available to process the verbal and nonverbal information that helps you follow the conversation.
Reduce Background Noise
Background noise is another factor that can be distracting and make it difficult to engage in a conversation. When you can, turn off any devices – tv, speaker, household appliances etc. Background noise provides more sound for your brain to process which can be overwhelming. It gives your auditory system competing sound to absorb and make sense of which overloads your brain and can be exhausting. You should avoid noisy environments and opt for quieter settings instead.
Rephrase vs. Repeat
Another useful strategy is to ask others to rephrase rather than repeat something they’ve said using the exact same words. This is helpful because oftentimes, people with hearing loss can have difficulty processing specific sounds and words. So, finding other words to communicate the same sentence can better help you hear and understand.
Communicate Hearing Needs
Disclosing your hearing loss and sharing your hearing needs is incredibly helpful. This allows other people to participate in creating an environment that maximizes your hearing. Communication is an exchange that requires the participation of everyone involved. Also, you are an expert on your hearing needs and can share what others can do during a conversation that best helps you hear and understand. This includes sharing specific strategies like the ones previously mentioned as well as asking the speaker to: be visible, not cover their mouth, annunciate words etc.
Communicating your hearing needs also lets others know that you are processing information when it may seem like you are experiencing difficulty. You can also check-in throughout the conversation to ensure that you are following along and understanding.
Lastly, remember to be patient! It takes time to learn and practice new ways of communicating. Relearning how to maximize your hearing takes effort and experimentation. Remember to always advocate for yourself and your hearing needs which is important for your health. Others want you to be present and engaged in the conversation as much as you want to be so include them in creating an accessible environment. Communication is not solely your responsibility; it is an exchange that requires everyone to participate in ways that maximize understanding. So be kind and flexible with yourself and others as you learn how to best navigate your hearing health!