You’ve perhaps clicked to read this article because you have a loved one who is living with a hearing impairment. The sad truth is, it’s incredibly likely that this is the case for at least one of your friends or close family members. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 466 million people have disabling hearing loss worldwide – and that number is predicted to almost double within two generations.
So, if you don’t know someone already, the chances are that you will at some stage in your life. Since we live in a world that’s designed for the majority of people who don’t have hearing loss, the question is, how can you best support someone who struggles with their hearing?
Living with untreated hearing loss
When thinking about the impact of hearing loss, it’s useful to understand how poor hearing health is actually defined. To be considered “clinically meaningful” or “disabling”, WHO explains that hearing loss needs to be greater than 40 decibels (dB). For context; this would mean the volume of a normal conversation is reduced to just a faint whisper.
With this in mind, you probably start to get an understanding of why a decline in hearing can mean big changes in quality of life for a lot of people. Phone conversations can become difficult; talking to family can be stressful; carrying out your job can be impossible.
Hearing loss is much more than an inconvenience. In actual fact, if unaddressed or untreated, numerous academic and clinical studies show links to a range of issues, including:
- Reduced self-esteem and a loss of confidence
- Withdrawing socially
- Increased aggression and irritability
- Isolation and associated depression
- Cognitive decline/dementia
- Vertigo and other balance problems
In recent years, the technology that helps with hearing loss as improved significantly. Hearing aids are better than ever, and we, as a society, have got a better understanding of the issues that surround hearing loss. That said, there’s still nothing that matches the human factor when it comes to providing care and support for someone who has difficulty hearing.
By enhancing your communication strategies – even just a little – you can promote better understanding, ease conversation frustrations, and help someone who has trouble hearing to participate fully in life.
Supporting a loved one with hearing problems
When most people are asked to think about communication strategies for people with hearing loss, the first thing that springs to mind is American Sign Language (ASL). While ASL can be life-changing for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, it’s important to remember that it’s a language in its own right – and since hearing loss often creeps up on people, it might not be something your loved one is familiar with.
If learning a new language feels like a big step, there are a host of extremely simple but effective strategies that you can use to ensure good communication with someone who might otherwise struggle.
Front and center
Try, if possible, to face the person you’re talking to when communicating. For many people, catching their eye or making a gesture is an indication that you want to talk – and it can be much more effective than simply hoping they hear you begin the conversation from another room.
Hearing loss isn’t always about the volume of the conversation. Speaking clearly may allow the person you’re talking with to grasp the key sounds from words and helps with lip reading. Shouting distorts the way your mouth forms words – so try to avoid raising your voice too much.
Keep your mouth clear
While lip-reading is a very specific skill that can take a long time to pick up fully, almost all of us lip-read or read people’s facial expressions to some degree – and it can help people with hearing loss enormously. As such, try to avoid covering your face and mouth when speaking. Again, don’t raise your voice too much – and avoid smoking or chewing gum too, as each of these things distorts that way your mouth creates sounds.
Lose the background noise
Background noise can be distracting for anyone – but it can be especially difficult when you’re hard of hearing. Try to reduce background noise as much as possible – as it can overwhelm the already faint sound of your speech.
Don’t underestimate how important it is for someone to be able to see the way you’re reacting to a conversation. Turn the lights up and make sure your mouth and your body language can be clearly seen.
Don’t be afraid to ask people what works for them in conversation. Some people might like you to be on one side of them, so they can hear you through more clearly through one ear. Then again, other people might want you to be right in front of them, so they can focus on the shapes your mouth is making.
There’s no single ‘right way’ to talk to someone with hearing loss. A lot of the time, working with the coping strategies they’ve already put together is the best way.
If speaking clearly and making your lips and body language easily read doesn’t work, you might want to try to make some adjustments to the language you use. Speaking in shorter, simpler sentences can be good – as well as making sure you have the person’s attention before you begin.
If you’re talking with a colleague, consider recapping the conversation by email when the conversation’s done. It makes sure nothing’s been missed and can be a big confidence booster. If you’d prefer to avoid the conversation about hearing loss directly, you can always say you benefit from keeping notes about things you’ve discussed.
Chatting about hearing aids and hearing technology can be a great way of ‘normalizing’ the subject of hearing loss. Feeling like you have poor hearing health can be isolating – so it’s useful to have conversations the acknowledge how common issues really are and the benefits hearing tests can bring.
Encouraging better hearing health
One of the biggest barriers to positive hearing health is a psychological one.
For a variety of reasons, many individuals feel there’s some stigma attached to hearing loss. In some cases, people think it’s an indication that their overall health is declining – or that age is causing them to seek support they have never previously needed. For other people, they might think they’re too young to need hearing aids – or that they won’t be able to afford them.
Don’t worry if you find your loved one has a hang up about seeking the help of a hearing care professional – there are plenty of ways to work around common objections:
Prepare for concerns
It’s normal for people to bring up objections to seeking help. Think about what they might say and work out some answers that help to normalize hearing loss and what they’re going through.
Go along to appointments
Don’t under-estimate how intimidating it can be going to a hearing assessment in an audiology department. Go along; provide a bit of moral support even if it’s not asked for – or help a loved one access online resources.
Try out some new technology
Perceptions of hearing devices are often based on older, very visible technology. New technology can be almost invisible – so encourage people to explore it – both online and in person.
Explore prices and ways of paying
Again, there’s a perception that hearing aids are exceptionally costly. This simply isn’t the case – and FDA-approved hearing aids through Virtual Hearing Solutions are often 40-60% cheaper than traditional prices. You might want to look at different payment methods too – to make sure you find a solution that suits your loved one’s budget.
Explain the benefits for all
The benefits of better hearing health often extend well beyond the individual. You might want to explain that relationships will often improve when communication improves – and better hearing can unlock a host of social opportunities too.
Focus on the life-changing points
Try to steer away from focusing on the feeling that an individual’s health is in question – and concentrate instead on the positive points. Ultimately, there’s no harm in exploring what’s possible – and chatting about what better hearing might mean for them.
What’s the next step for you?
We know that living with someone who is experiencing hearing loss can be difficult. Aside from the hearing frustrations – there’s often the pain involved with watching their emotional well-being diminish too.
You might not be taking on an easy job encouraging someone to seek help with their hearing – but you should understand that, no matter how stubborn or resistant they might appear – you’re going to help them take a life-changing step.
At Virtual Hearing Solutions – we understand the challenges you’re facing. We’re on your side; delivering an understanding and compassionate service that reduces the stigma your loved one might associate with hearing loss. What’s more, we’ll provide a 3-year warranty, a free 12-month supply of batteries and cleaning supplies – and 2 free consultations with an audiologist or hearing professional.
The next step is simple. Book a hearing test – or, if you think it would be easier to test your loved one’s hearing in their own home, explore our online hearing test. Our test couldn’t be simpler – and all you’ll need is a computer, tablet, or phone; earbuds or headphones; and somewhere quiet.