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Tips for Communicating With Someone Who Has a Hearing Loss

Hearing aids improve a person’s ability to hear, but there are still situations that can make it difficult for them to hear. Today we will talk about some ways to help you communicate more clearly with people who have impaired hearing.



Basic communication strategies, because communication is a two-way street. That's our topic today on Ask The Hearing Doctors.


Hi, I'm Jim Cuddy, and this is Ask The Hearing Doctors. And I'm joined today by Dr. Ana Anzola, Dr. Wendy Thorne, doctors of audiology with Hearing Doctors, the Washington DC area's highest-rated audiology practice with over 1,500 5-star reviews. Ana, Wendy, thanks for having us back. Yeah.

So today we're talking about good communication. It's a two way street. Somebody has a hearing breakdown. You still, they're not a hundred percent as we've talked about before. They have hearing aids, but they're not quite a hundred percent. So you really have to be careful how you're dealing with somebody, making sure that they are hearing you clearly and that kind of thing. And I've been doing a lot of research on this because of our time together and becoming very interested in it and knowing that I probably have some deficiencies of my own. So some of the things I'd like to talk about, and this seems obvious... avoiding or, or, or reducing noise, of course you should do that. But what are some of the ways that, that people should look to do that when, when you're dealing with somebody that has hearing loss? 


Sure. So one of the things that we talk about is getting somebody's attention, tapping them on their shoulder, um, making sure that, um, that the conversation is with them, not with somebody else. Yeah. And it's also important to make sure the lighting in the room is bright. You know, you don't want to have a dim light - it's going to be hard for that person to be able to read your lips and your body language, sitting in a nice room with carpeting, um, good acoustics, um, a place where you can actually see the face and get the facial expressions because so much [communication is] with their eyes. 


So going into a restaurant, some restaurants are going to be better than others. Do you just avoid restaurants altogether? I mean, how do you, how do you do that? 


God, I hope not. I mean, a big part of it too, is finding a good time, you know? So if you know that this restaurant, the rush hour is five to eight, you know, going before or after, when it's kind of started to die down a little bit. Yeah. Or don't just ask for a table. Um, I would prefer that they would ask for a booth with the high back, the sound is a little bit more protected. You know, sit closer to the person that you really want to interact with. I think it's so important. 


Yeah. I've been in situations with somebody that has hearing loss. They have a hearing aid and they actually feel better taking them out in those instances because of their, all the other room noise that they're picking up. That doesn't seem like it makes a lot of sense.


Perhaps they have the wrong technology. So if they're very active... we like to find out upfront what type of activities they do so that we can better match the technology, their hearing loss, their hearing needs. And, you know, perhaps ask the family to come in and participate because there's, this is a family event, not just the individual. 


Here's another one. Let's say you're going on vacation and you're going to be in the car for several hours or even it could even be a short jaunt for that matter. What are some of the factors there you have to be careful with when you're dealing with somebody that's in the car with you that has hearing loss. 


Sure. So we talk about improving the acoustics, not just in a restaurant or at home, but also in the car, you have the windows. So you have, if you have a solid roof, perhaps close it. Reduce the volume of the radio, that should help right now.


I've often heard, emphasize the visual. What exactly are we talking about? Emphasizing the visual. I mean, is that kind of jumping out in front of somebody? I mean, how far do you take that? 


Good. And you could do that. However, I think it's more important to look at somebody's eyes. Like when I'm talking and speaking to you, I'm looking at your eyes and when the hearing is not as perfect as it used to be, I'm relying so much on my visuals to see, Oh, are you happy? Are you angry? Uh, are you, uh, content? Um, so there's a lot of clues or cues that I get from just talking to you and then having that proper eye contact, it really helps just the body language. Even a hundred percent communication is I think in my opinion, more visual than it is anything else. So reading the lips, reading body language, you know, seeing how they're sitting and, you know, different things like that can fill in any gaps that you may be hearing or mishearing.


Speech quality is important. And we've talked about this, don't automatically talk really loud when somebody has a hearing loss, because it may be misinterpreted for one, but what are the other issues with, with addressing, trying to address, hearing loss that way? 


Well, shouting doesn't really help. I mean, I could sit here and shout at you, but then you know, that I'm shouting and then you go, Whoa, why you're shouting interpreted that you're mad. Right. And so shouting doesn't always help. What helps is maybe rephrasing asking, um, did you get what I said? And then having a conversation, you know, ensuring that the individual is actually, um, you know, giving back the information, then I know what you might've missed. Speaking slower, too. 


Yeah. So you're verifying by, by kind of repeating to make sure that they, that they've understood.


You talk about, you know, um, have the patients say, you know, I heard that dah, dah, dah, dah, and then you're going to be able to then better fill in the blanks because automatically we say what, when we can't understand. But oftentimes it's only about maybe 10 to 20% of the information that might've been missed, but did we know which 10 or 20% was at the beginning, the middle, the end. And so by repeating, and then you know exactly what you might've missed and then they have more time to figure out and give it back to you, is simplifying the conversation. 


In other words, when you have multi-syllabic words, I mean, things like that. I mean, is that something you should try and be aware of? 


I think so. I mean, if I, if I emphasize that this is what we want to talk about, so I emphasize on those words, right? Yeah. And I think elaborating sometimes you can just get too lost in the details and you know, if someone's just missing out so much on the conversation, it's easier to shorten that to the most important things. 


So the other thing I want to address before we go, it's, uh, I saw this and you need to be a good communication partner. What does that mean to be a good communication partner? 


So not talking to your spouse when you're on the other side of the house. I know that's very hard to do. I think that's just nature for everyone to kind of just shout, um, you know, kind of like what those communication cues we were saying, you know, getting their attention. And before you start talking about something and just being, you know, sympathetic and empathetic, uh, we spend a lot of time with our patients and the family members to have them really understand what it is that they might be missing. And for the first time, sometimes they realize here, wow, I had no idea that this is the way you were hearing. And so that becomes, that gives them more information about how the other person had been processing information or not processing it. And it wasn't that, you know, they were being ignored. It was more about, you know, I didn't have enough, it sounded muted. I heard some parts of the sentence, not everything. And you have no idea the other member of the family, or a colleague or friend. 


All right. Last one. So you need to, it's probably something you need to practice a little bit, I would think, right. And institute so that you stay aware that when you're dealing with somebody that has hearing loss, that this is the way you need to be a better communicator. 


Yeah. And, and not just repeating it, repeating it, doesn't help. It's more rephrasing it, asking to verify, did you get that information? Are we okay? Are we on the same page? And I think that going back and forth makes the other person have the confidence that they need to have. And sometimes you tend to lose that confidence and you don't want to put yourself out there anymore. It's very embarrassing. The last time I missed it. Um, and now with the masks, it's horrible because you missed too much, Oh, what typically used to work and now people are coming to us and saying, I can't cope. It just doesn't work anymore. 


Be a better communication partner, have a little bit more patience. That's all you really need to do. Yes. Okay. Ana, Wendy, thank you so much for your time.


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