8 Ways to have a better conversation with someone with hearing loss

Hearing loss

This article has been kindly written by Shari Eberts, a hearing health advocate, writer and avid Bikram yogi. She serves on the Board of Trustees of both Hearing Health Foundation and Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing loss. You can find her on her Living with Hearing Loss Blog, Facebook and Twitter. Shari has written a post with some practical guidance on ways to have better conversations with someone with hearing loss. There are some great tips for everyone here.

Shari EbertsThose of us with hearing loss know how hard it can be to connect with others, even with those closest to us – our friends and family. Conversations can be difficult, with frequent repeats, pauses, and misunderstandings. It can be frustrating and sad, not only for us, but for those that love us as well. They don’t like to see us struggle or be unhappy, but they can also get annoyed that we don’t understand what they are saying. This post is for them. Share it with your friends and family and enjoy better conversations! 

Hearing aids don't work like glasses

The first step in having better conversations with our friends and family is for them to understand that hearing aids don’t work like glasses. Glasses take fuzzy images and sharpen them so they are crisp and clear, allowing most people with glasses to see normally, or pretty darn close. This is not the case for hearing aids. 

Hearing aids amplify sounds, but this just makes them louder, not necessarily crisper or clearer. Most people with hearing loss can hear that someone is talking to them; they just can't understand what words are being said. The clarity is not there. 

This leaves the person with hearing loss playing a bit of a guessing game. Maybe he hears only the starting letter of one word and the final sound of another word. It takes work to make sense of these incomplete sounds and turn them into words or a phrase that makes sense in the context of the conversation. This requires a lot of extra thinking and can often be exhausting. 

Hearing aids also have a tough time differentiating among sounds so that the background noise (i.e., the hum of the refrigerator or the air conditioner) is amplified in addition to the more important sounds of the conversation. This can actually make it harder to hear in certain situations!

8 ways to have a better conversation with someone with hearing loss

But all is not lost! Follow these simple steps and enjoy better conversations with your friends and family with hearing loss. 

1. Provide Context

Context makes it easier to fill in the blank spaces of the words. If all you hear is "__oot," knowing if the conversation is about owls (hoot) or a robbery (loot) or musical instruments (flute) is a big help!

2. Get Their Attention First

Hearing takes concentration for those with hearing loss, so make sure they are ready and are paying attention. Talking to them before they are ready will have them playing catch-up and make it harder for them to understand the context of the conversation.

3. Don’t Cover Your Lips

Lip-reading is helpful in filling in the blanks of what is not heard. I always tell people, “I can't hear you if I can't see you.” Don't cover your mouth with your hands and make sure that you are well lit. 

4. Speak Clearly and at a Steady Rate

Remember that volume is only part of the problem. Clarity of the sounds is really key. Speak your words clearly, and try to maintain a regular pace of speech. Rapid speech is very difficult to follow since all that brain processing time is condensed, while slower than typical speech will look weird on the lips and make lip-reading less useful.

5. Be Aware of The Surroundings

Background noise is a problem, so try to avoid it if you can. Turn off the A/C or at least turn the fan down to low. Don't play music in the background. A quiet and well-lit spot always works best.

6. Take Turns Talking

If there are multiple people in the conversation, it is important that only one person speaks at a time and that each speaker makes the effort to face the person who has trouble hearing. 

7. Repeat or Rephrase

Be prepared to hear "What?" during the conversation. Try not to get frustrated, but simply repeat what you have said. If that doesn’t work, try rephrasing your thoughts using different words that might be easier for her to hear. Or spell a word that is giving her a particularly hard time. Often knowing the first few letters can help connect the dots. 

8. Keep Your Sense of Humour

Hey, it can be frustrating, I know. But remember the goal is to connect with one another, so why not laugh at the misunderstandings. It is better than the alternative.