If you have a loved one with hearing loss, you might be making some mistaken assumptions about what they experience. Your imagination of life as a person with hearing loss might be off the mark, and those assumptions can lead to false expectations of your loved one. Let’s walk through some of the things that people with hearing loss wish you knew. Keeping these in mind and shifting your approach can make all the difference to your loved one, promoting a stronger connection and better communication to facilitate their needs.
I don’t want you to talk to me like a child.
For some reason, some people mistakenly adjust their speech in such drastic ways that they end up talking down to people with hearing loss. Though you might not intend to do so, these adjustments to speech can make your loved one feel worse rather than better. Slowing down your speech, exaggerating your consonants, and raising your volume to the level of shouting can be humiliating for your loved one, so take care not to make extreme adjustments like these. Simply raising your volume a little bit is sufficient for many people, unless they make a direct request that you accommodate their hearing needs in another way.
Hearing loss is exhausting.
Those who have hearing loss can become fatigued quite quickly in a conversation or social environment. You might want them to remain engaged longer than they are able, and you might even witness them visibly checking out on the situation. When they are expected to remain engaged beyond the point of fatigue, the harm is not only to their energy level and ability to actively engage. Some people begin to feel isolated within a social context in which they can’t hear. That feeling of being alone in a room full of people can even lead to mental health challenges, so don’t expect your loved one to go beyond their energy threshold.
Please don’t speak for me.
When you find yourself in a situation where hearing loss is evident, you might have the temptation to speak for your loved one. Rather than belabor the process of communication, why not offer the needed information directly, filling in the obvious gaps in conversation? Though the temptation is very real, speaking for someone with hearing loss can be harmful in a number of ways. In the first sense, it makes the person feel unimportant and unable to move through life independently. Speaking for someone can also contribute to that feeling of isolation, even within a busy place. Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between hearing loss and increased risk of dementia and cognitive dysfunction. Many specialists think that part of this connection has to do with the lack of mental exercise that those with communication difficulties might experience. When you speak for your loved one, you are taking away the opportunity to work those mental and cognitive “muscles.”
Accommodations go a long way.
If you can learn the right ways to help your loved one with hearing loss, those accommodations can go a long way. Each person’s needs are unique, so you will need to learn exactly what kind of accommodations are desired by your loved one. A common request is that you refrain from calling out from another room. When you do that, not only is the sound muffled, but your loved one is also unable to see your mouth movement or body language to assist in understanding you. Others would like you to speak closer to their “good ear” whenever possible.
These simple steps can go a long way toward making communication effective. Your simple gesture might make the difference between understanding and misunderstanding. Of course, the best way to help your loved one with hearing loss is to encourage treatment and to support that person through the process. The first step is to get a hearing test, so you can make it a point to help schedule that appointment and to go along for moral support. As the process continues, all you need to do is be there, listen to important information, and help ask the questions that matter most. Your assistance could form the bridge from hearing loss to renewed communication ability!