One inevitable side effect of hearing loss is increased difficulty communicating with others. Specifically, the person with hearing loss will often not hear, or will misunderstand, what someone has said. Sometimes, the misunderstanding can be humorous. More often, though, it is frustrating and embarrassing. Some people with hearing loss will eventually began to retreat from social interactions, reducing quality of life. Hearing aids can be of great benefit in restoring these communication abilities. However, hearing aids alone are not a total solution. While astounding advancements have been made in the world of hearing aids in the past few years, they still have their limits, as with any technology. Use of effective communication strategies can greatly improve the benefit received from hearing aids. All of these strategies are simple to implement in daily life (although adjusting habits make take time).
Assertive vs. Passive or Aggressive
People with hearing loss often change their communication style over time. It is not done purposefully, but as a subconscious adjustment to the progressing loss. Many will become passive, allowing others to do the majority of the talking. On the other side of the coin, a smaller group will become aggressive, dominating the conversation (talking more means they have to rely less on their ears to lis-ten). Again, no blame should be dealt or guilt felt for adopting either of these styles, but neither is effective or sustainable. The goal should be an assertive approach to communication. Allow for a natural flow to occur, but do not be afraid to stick up for yourself. Ask someone to speak louder or slower if not understood, or to repeat if necessary. Choose the seat in a restaurant that will be most conducive to listening (more on this later). Although people with hearing loss often fear that they will annoy or inconvenience others, the literature states that others are very receptive when those with a hearing loss own it and are upfront about the topic.
Effective Communication Strategies
Distance: One of the best ways to improve understanding is simply to get closer. The Inverse Square Law states that for each doubling of distance the auditory signal is reduced by six decibels (dB). Thus, if a person’s voice is at 60 dB when standing three feet away, it will decrease to 53 dB at six feet and so on. The take away here is that talking to a person with hearing loss from across the room is ineffective as the signal will be much quieter by the time it actually reaches their ears (or hearing aids). This also means that there is more interference (other noise) between the listener and the talker, and that the interference may be louder to the person with hearing loss than the speech signal. If you want to talk, get close.
Vision: A person with hearing loss will often say that they are expert lip readers. While they may not be able to spy on your conversation from across the room, it is true that people with hearing loss rely heavily on visual cues. It allows their brain to expend less energy trying to understand. The talker should be in the same room and facing the listener, with good lighting and nothing obstructing their mouths (e.g. a hand or hands).
Noise: Understanding speech in noise is a difficult task for anybody. As noise cannot be erased from the world, minimizing its impact is the best outcome. At a party or restaurant, try to sit as far away from the source of the noise as possible. Do not choose a table at a restaurant that is in a corner or in the middle of the room, as these locations increase the echo. The person with hearing difficulty should choose a seat that places the majority of the noise behind them. This is especially important for those with hearing aids, as the aids will detect the extraneous noise and turnoff the rear microphone, only amplifying signals coming from the front.
Rephrasing: Everyone’s natural response to missed speech is to say, “What?” However, a more effective response would be to ask the person to rephrase or fill in missing information, like asking, “What time are we going to dinner on Tuesday?” This allows the listener to receive the needed information and acknowledges to the talker that they were heard.
While communication may never be perfect, implementing these strategies, along with hearing aid use, will greatly improve understanding and enjoyment. QCBN
By Jeff Lane, Au. D.
Trinity Hearing Center is located at 1330 N. Rim Dr., Suite B in Flagstaff. For more information, visit the website at TrinityHearing.net. Jeff Lane is a doctor of audiology with a passion for improving the lives of others. Dr. Lane may be reached at 928-522-0500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.