Making a positive difference in the lives of those with hearing impairment

Communication Strategies: How Can Friends and Family Help?

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Hearing aid technology has advanced remarkably in the last few years. Hearing aids are able to amplify sounds in different ways depending on the frequency and decibel level of the incoming sounds, they can “filter out” background noise with the use of directional microphones and noise management algorithms, and the number of ways we, as clinicians, can adjust the hearing aids is enormous. However, what people don’t understand right away is that hearing aids are just that: aids. Think of them as a pair of crutches. If you have a bad leg and are unable to walk, crutches are great because they allow you to walk and get around. You are not, however, going to be able to run a marathon with crutches. As clinicians, we are always trying to set people up with realistic expectations of what hearing aids are (and are not) capable of. Some of the big issues people encounter with hearing aids include understanding soft spoken people, understanding people who speak quickly and/or who have accents, and understanding people in a noisy environment. You’ll notice that it’s not “hearing” so much as “understanding” that is the common problem. This is because although hearing aids amplify sound, this sound still has to travel through a damaged hearing system before reaching the brain. And, of course, a hearing aid will never be able to compete with a normal, well-functioning hearing system.

So how can we make the most of hearing aids? While there are many things the hearing aid wearer can do (e.g. online courses to improve speech understanding, speech-reading classes to aid in communication), my goal with this article is to illustrate how we, as friends and family members, can help our loved ones communicate in the most effective way possible. The key to this goal is realizing that communication is a two-way street. The following is a list of strategies that are extremely helpful for those with hearing loss:

  • Do not speak unless you are in the same room with the listener.
  • Get the person’s attention before you begin to speak to him/her. If necessary, call the person’s name or touch him/her lightly to attract their attention.
  • Be sure the listener can see your face clearly. Do not stand in front of a light or a window. The glare will make it difficult for him/her to see your face.
  • Do not turn or walk away while speaking.
  • Do not shout. Speak at a normal volume. Shouting distorts speech and makes it harder to understand.
  • Speak at a normal rate. Don’t speak too fast. The faster you talk, the harder it is to understand.
  • Speak clearly. Do not exaggerate movements of your mouth. This will also distort speech.
  • Do not speak directly into the listener’s ear.
  • If the listener does not understand what you have said, rephrase the statement rather than simply repeating it.
  • Be patient. Try not to get upset if you have to repeat things a lot. Hearing fluctuates with days, times and moods.
  • Talk in a quiet area. The noisier the room, the more difficulty we all have following a conversation.

Print this out and put a copy on your fridge! Refer to it often to remind yourself how to help your friend/family member in those difficult situations. Keep in mind that these are strategies we are not used to using so this is new for you too, and it will take time before these strategies become natural. Learn to be patient and gentle with yourself during this process, and practice practice practice!

Hannah Lee, M.Sc., R. Aud. (C)
Clinical Audiologist
The Hearing Loss Clinic

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