By Rebecca Krukemyer, Au.D.
I dedicate this article to the many patients I have who lament that they wish their family members understood what it is like to have hearing loss and wear hearing aids. It’s disheartening to hear from those who experience frustrations from family members who have unrealistic expectations.
Hearing aids amplify sound so that speech is audible to the wearer. However they are not a cure all. They are hearing assistants and significantly improve hearing in a variety of listening situations. They do not restore hearing to 100%
It is important to understand that hearing loss is often accompanied with speech processing difficulties. Speech processing problems make it difficult to understand people who speak quickly. It is also difficult to understand conversation when two or more people are speaking at the same time. Hearing aids do not slow down speech, nor do they amplify one voice over another. With this in mind, there are strategies that family members and friends can use to make communication easier.
Don’t talk so fast. As we age, our reflexes and processing speed slows down. This explains why it is so difficult for older people to understand young talkers who speak rapidly. When speaking to those over the age of 75, especially for those with hearing loss, it is wise to slow down your rate of speech if you want to be understood.
Face the person when you are talking. Don’t turn and walk away during a conversation. Avoid talking when your head is in the refrigerator or cupboards. Do not continue to have a conversation from a different room when it is apparent that you are not being understood. Many people with hearing loss have acquired lip reading skills even if they don’t realize it or wish to admit it.
Limit background noise whenever possible. Do not have important conversations in the presence of background noise as it can be a huge interference and lead to confusion. Turn down the television while conversing and choose quiet restaurants.
Don’t change topics abruptly. Knowing what the topic is can lead to anticipation where the conversation is going and what will be said. Switching topics abruptly can cause confusion. Ensure that the listener knows what the topic of the conversation is before continuing.
Don’t compare my hearing loss or my hearing aid results with somebody else. Just as no two pregnancies are alike, the effects of hearing loss can be vastly different. The degree, configuration, and type of hearing loss along with other factors help determine the prognosis. We all know people who function so well with their hearing aids that you didn’t even know that they had hearing problems. Then there are those who struggle to hear even with hearing aids. It doesn’t do a bit of good to remind your spouse that Mr. So and So has hearing aids and hears just fine. If you think badgering, shaming, or humiliating your spouse will encourage him to try to hear better, think again.
Have patience and understanding. While it may be frustrating for you to have a conversation with somebody who struggles with hearing loss, consider this; it is frustrating for them to have conversations with nearly everybody. A little bit of patience can go a long way.
Use word substitutions. Rather than repeat the same misunderstood word over and over, use another word that means the same thing.
Speak slightly louder than normal when necessary. But avoid shouting as the listener interprets that as anger and hostility.
Rebecca Krukemyer, Au.D., is an audiologist in private practice in Pemberville. She can be reached at Portage Valley Hearing, LLC, 133 E. Front St., Pemberville, 419-287-2201 or firstname.lastname@example.org