Communicating with People With Hearing Loss

Communication involves different processes that allow us to take in and express information about our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes on the world around us. Communication allows us to develop strong relationships with co-workers, friends, and family members. More specifically, communication involves:

While the context of how one communicates may seem like second-nature for most, let’s step into the shoes of someone with hearing loss. How might their ability to converse with others change? How does the hearing impairment change their daily activities? What about their ability to connect with others?

According to the World Health Organization, over 5% of the world’s population (430 million people) experience a degree of hearing loss that is disabling to their everyday lives. 

Age continues to remain the strongest predictor for hearing loss in adults aged 20-69, with the most prevalent population aged 60-69. According to the National Institute of Health, “28.8 million adults can benefit from use of hearing aids”.

While the severity of hearing loss can vary between each individual, this can be an isolating and overwhelming experience for many as they try to quickly adapt to a world they once knew. For many, this can result in decreased participation in preferred activities and an overall decreased quality of life. 

If you are a caregiver or friend of someone with hearing impairment, check out some helpful tips and strategies to maximize communication with this population. 

7 Communication Strategies With People Who Have Hearing Loss

Be visible to your communication partner.

When conversing with someone with hearing loss, position yourself in front of them so they can visibly see your face. When having a conversation, it is natural to use both our hearing and vision to help comprehend what is being said to us. Many individuals with hearing loss try to read lips.

Try to speak clearly, slowly, and naturally.

Often, many people attempt to yell or shout at the individual with hearing loss with hopes of improved comprehension of the message. Yelling or shouting can further distort the perception of sounds making the message more convoluted. As a result, try to use your natural volume while implementing a slow and clear pronunciation.

Speak into the stronger ear.

After hearing testing, individuals with hearing loss often have a stronger ear in which they can hear better on a specific side. Try asking the individual if they have a preference and what works best for them. Not only will this help them feel more understood, but this also will help their overall hearing and comprehension of the message.

Use short and simple language with frequent pauses.

When socializing, it’s important to consider how you structure the content of your message. For example if you are sharing an old childhood story, try to make the message more concise so they can better follow along. Frequent pauses also allows more time to process information.

Minimize distractions and background noise.

It is important to be conscientious of the noise around the individual with hearing loss. If there is a lot of noise, try to find a space that is more quiet so the individual can distinguish your message from the noise behind you. Remember to turn the television or background music off as this can be distracting.

In public spaces, sit next to hard, reflecting surfaces.

If you are at a public space or a location with windows, try to seat the individual with hearing loss next to the window. The refraction of sound against a hard surface improves the hearing of a message compared to a wall. When seated next to a wall or ambient air, sound continues to travel and/or is absorbed by a soft surface thus making hearing more challenging.

Be mindful of sound distortions when talking.

During speech production, it is natural to have difficulty with hearing the following sounds: /s/, /f/, /t/, /k/, and /p/. If you notice that your partner is having difficulty understanding your message, try to rephrase your sentence versus repeating it.

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