Hearing loss is an unfortunate fact of our noisy, modern world. 44 million Americans age 20 or older currently suffer from hearing loss of some variety, and the figure is projected to grow. While modern hearing aids have come a long way and new technologies like cochlear implants are restoring some amount of hearing to the deaf, nothing can return a person’s hearing ability to normal once it has diminished. For this reason, it’s important to do what we can to accommodate the people in our lives who suffer from hearing loss.
Help Maintain Visual Cues
People whose hearing is suboptimal rely more strongly on context and visual cues to help them understand speech. So, try to think about what you can do to make sure they can see you clearly. Always face them when you are speaking. If you’re sitting down somewhere, make sure you’re sitting across from them. Make sure the room is well lit and avoid covering your mouth when you speak. If you’re seating people in a group, seat the hearing impaired in the middle and not at the outer edge. And if you are walking and talking, as many people must in this bustling modern world, make sure not to walk in front of a hearing impaired person while talking to them, as your voice is less likely to reach them in the first place and they are totally unable to see your face.
Ways of Speaking
While it is rude to assume that those with hearing loss require you to speak slower and louder when talking, please do so if you are asked directly. For most people suffering from hearing loss, their increased reliance on context clues means that if they ask you to repeat something, it’s better to rephrase it than to simply say it again louder. Get as many words in the mix as possible, and they’ll be better able to derive your meaning. If you say, for example, “What time does the movie start?” and they ask you to repeat yourself, instead of saying it again louder, try saying, “When should we get to the movie theater?”
Also, because a person with hearing loss is relying heavily on context clues, it can be disorienting for them to change the subject frequently. Make sure they are with you before you veer off into new conversational territory.
Choose a quiet venue to meet up with your loved one who has hearing loss. Try to find a restaurant or bar that doesn’t play background music. Ask to be seated further away from other guests and the noisy kitchen. If you’re planning a visit to a public place, call ahead and see what accommodations they might have for the hearing impaired. Many museums will have technology on hand that integrates with hearing aids for guided tours and lectures.
Also try to remember that sound is directional. This means it is easier to hear sounds that are being projected directly toward you, rather than from secondary reflections off of walls and other surfaces. It can help a person to understand what you’re saying simply by positioning yourselves such that background noise is projecting away from them and you are projecting toward them.
If you’re discussing something important with your loved one that requires follow up, consider sending an email to recap your conversation after the fact. It couldn’t hurt and might clarify something for them that wasn’t perfectly clear in the moment. People with hearing loss learn to lean more heavily on context and visual cues, but also to let some things slide in order to let the conversation move forward.
Encourage Them to Get a Hearing Test
If they aren’t already being treated for hearing loss, gently encourage your loved one to get a hearing test. The benefits of getting hearing aids are well-documented, and 85% of people who have them are satisfied with them. Depending on the severity of hearing loss, hearing aids may be able to restore a person’s hearing to near-normal ability. If your loved one is requiring a lot of accommodation for their hearing loss and is not currently fitted with hearing aids, it is likely that hearing aids can improve their life in myriad ways: from keeping them from falling down to being more socially active, there are many reasons to seek treatment for hearing loss immediately.