When someone suffers from hearing loss, it can be difficult and even frustrating for them to communicate effectively with others. Seniors who experience age-related hearing impairment often feel isolated and may withdraw from social situations, which can take a terrible toll on their overall quality of life.
While some elders benefit from assistive devices like hearing aids, not all types of hearing loss respond to this kind of treatment. Fortunately, the use of proper communication techniques can significantly improve hearing and listening performance. The following tips can help facilitate conversations with someone who has a hearing problem.
Tips for Communicating With a Hearing Impaired Senior
- Get Their Attention
Respectfully get the senior’s attention before speaking. Polite ways to do so include stepping into their line of sight, calmly waving a hand in their direction or lightly tapping on their shoulder. Try not to startle the person, though.
- Reduce Background Noise
Eliminate as much background noise as possible, including music, television sound and other people’s conversations. This can be difficult or impossible in public settings like loud restaurants and at social gatherings. Choosing quieter locations or requesting seating in less crowded areas can help minimize ambient noise and distractions and facilitate communication.
- Speak One at a Time
Conversations with multiple people can be difficult for someone with hearing loss to follow. In group settings, try to make sure only one person talks at a time. Side conversations and talking over one another can make it confusing and overwhelming for a senior with hearing loss to participate.
- Speak Clearly and Loudly
Face the person and enunciate while speaking, but don’t exaggerate your speech. The same applies to your tone and voice volume. Some seniors with age-related hearing loss benefit from a speaker using a slightly raised voice, but don’t shout. Be mindful to speak at a reasonable speed as well—not too fast but not too slowly either.
- Repeat Yourself
When conversing with someone who has hearing loss, it’s important to remember they may not fully comprehend what you’ve said on the first try. You might need you to repeat yourself. If they seem confused, don’t hesitate to ask if they’ve understood. When repeating, try using the exact same words and phrasing a couple of times. Exact repetition may help them piece together the entire thought you’re expressing, whereas constantly changing what you’re saying can be counterproductive and may make them doubt what they thought you said initially.
- Rephrase Your Question or Statement
If repetition isn’t serving either of you well, then take a shot at rephrasing what you’re trying to convey. Try shortening and simplifying your question or statement and see if that helps.
- Appearances and Visual Cues Matter
Proper lighting and visibility can help elders who are hearing impaired use visual cues to better understand what is being said to them. Be sure to face the person directly while speaking and try to maintain normal eye contact.
Even if an elder with hearing loss never studied lip-reading, they can gain a great deal of information by looking at a speaker’s mouth, facial expressions and body language. Avoid hiding your mouth, looking around, eating or chewing gum while conversing as this can interfere with their ability to hear or interpret what you’re saying. Sometimes gestures can help get an idea across but be respectful and remember that miming is different from American Sign Language (ASL).
- Be Understanding
Always exercise patience when conversing with someone who is hard of hearing. If you get frustrated, take a deep breath and consider how difficult the situation must be for them. As much as you want the person with hearing loss to hear what you have to say, remember that they also want to be able to listen, understand and participate in this exchange. Misunderstandings and awkward moments are bound to happen but try to keep things light and continue the interaction.
Coping with hearing loss is often a cooperative effort. There are many different types of hearing loss and degrees of hearing impairment. Each person has their own preferred means of effectively communicating, so don’t hesitate to ask the person how you can help improve your interaction. If verbal communication is not successful, switch your approach. Try writing down what you want to say, using respectful gestures ,or typing out your question or statement on your phone and showing it to the person.
If you think someone you love has a new or worsening hearing problem, suggest they see a doctor for a hearing test. A specialist can determine the cause of their hearing issue, offer potential solutions and recommend techniques for better communication that will help them navigate social situations and maintain their quality of life.
Sources: Hearing Loss: A Common Problem for Older Adults (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/hearing-loss-common-problem-older-adults#communicate)