Once you recognize your hearing loss and you’ve addressed it with hearing aids, your next step to better hearing is better communication—especially with the people you are around everyday. Not only does it take time for you to adjust to wearing hearing aids, but it will take your family some adjustment time as well. However, there are some things you can do to help them communicate with you better. It is extremely important to educate your family and friends about your specific hearing needs as well as basic communication tips in order to have consistently clear and effective conversations.
What your family should understand about your hearing loss
The first and most important thing you and your loved ones need to understand is that hearing aids are not magic. A lot of people have the misconception that hearing aids will give people super-sonic hearing or restore their hearing to that of a 20 year old. Although hearing aids do an incredibly good job of returning sounds to a level that is accessible and comfortable, it may still be difficult for you to understand all the information in every situation, regardless of how well the aids have been adjusted. Your family needs to understand that troublesome listening situations that are difficult for people with normal hearing to communicate in—like a busy bar or restaurant—will probably still be difficult for you, even with the best possible hearing aid function. Talk to your family about how hearing aids improve your speech understanding, but how they also have limitations.
What you should understand about your family
Hearing loss is an invisible problem. It’s something very few people even think about, unless it affects them personally. For individuals with hearing loss, even if family and friends know about it, they routinely forget. They may forget to do or say things that normally help you to understand because they’re not actively thinking about your hearing loss. It is important to be patient if this happens. Simply reminding a relative to get your attention before speaking or letting them know you’re having a hard time hearing them can help reduce the frustration in situations like these. A second major issue is that most people are lazy in their speech. Hearing loss or not, we all take short cuts in our language. People shorten phrases, use slang words, mumble, or simply look away or cover their mouth when talking. While there are many ways to approach this issue, the most common is asking them to repeat themselves. However, this does not always solve the problem. If you’re having trouble understanding a family member, try asking them to rephrase what they have said or ask them to speak more clearly.
Tips to teach your family members
There are many ways to help reduce miscommunication. The important step is to share your ideas with family, friends, and other individuals you communicate with. Learning to advocate for yourself in conversation, especially if you have a hearing loss, is an important way to avoid feeling left out or frustrated with your hearing ability. Here are some basic suggestions to share with loved ones to help them be more effective in communicating with you and other people with hearing loss. Tips for communicating with someone who has hearing loss:
- Get the person’s attention before you begin speaking to them. Sometimes saying their name isn’t enough. Tap them on the shoulder or face them so they know you are speaking.
- Make sure you are close enough and the lighting is bright enough that the person you are speaking with can see your face. This will enable them to use visual cues to understand you more easily.
- If a person with hearing loss misunderstands, try rephrasing what you said instead of repeating. This causes you to slow down slightly, and it reduces your inclination to shout. Shouting often causes the sounds to distort and become even more difficult to understand.
- Write down (or text) important details. Addresses, phone numbers, and name spellings can be difficult to catch precisely. Send them a message or write a quick note to ensure they have the correct information.
- If there is too much noise, try choosing a quieter area to talk. Places with excessive background noise and lots of distractions can make conversation difficult for anyone and hearing loss only accentuates the confusion.
These are just a few of the potential tips for enhancing conversation. What works best for you will depend on who you are speaking with, your current situation, and your unique hearing loss. Educate your loved ones about your hearing situation. Let them know what they can expect from your hearing aids. Share these suggestions with them, and you won’t have to smile and nod to move the conversation forward.