Do you know someone with hearing loss? With nearly 50 million Americans suffering from hearing loss, you probably do. Hearing loss does not discriminate. In fact 65 percent of people with hearing problems are younger than age 65. If someone close to you has hearing loss, you may have wondered how best to support them.
Hearing loss affects friends and family, too. Communication patterns must be altered, new technologies learned and everyone must adjust to the new reality. Frustration on all sides can take a toll on these relationships. Follow these nine tips to support a loved one with hearing loss and keep your connections strong and vibrant:
Encourage them to get their hearing tested. Hearing loss often occurs gradually, so friends and family may be the first to notice. Perhaps the person is resistant to the idea they have trouble hearing. Tell them how much you love them and worry they might miss parts of conversations or even be put in danger by impaired hearing.
Use communication best practices. Show the person with hearing loss you are willing to make changes, too. Follow communication best practices like always facing the person, keeping your mouth uncovered, and speaking clearly and at a consistent rate. Many of these actions are common sense, but it takes effort to implement them in every conversation.
Ask how you can help. Everyone’s hearing loss is different, so what helps one person may not work for another. Ask your loved one what accommodations will make hearing easier. For example, when you go to a restaurant, let the person with hearing loss pick her seat first. Typically a spot in a corner or with one’s back to the wall is best for blocking out background noise.
Break down the stigma. Hearing loss is still associated with stereotypes of being old and less intelligent, causing many to keep hearing problems hidden. Embrace your loved one’s hearing loss, making it a normal part of the person, not a shameful secret. Talk about it openly but casually, just like you might someone’s bad sense of direction or bad back.
Bring your sense of humor. With hearing loss, it is inevitable there will be some mishearings along the way. The person may answer a question you didn’t ask or reply to a comment with something out of context. Rather than allow these occurrences to be embarrassing, laugh at them.
Expect to repeat. Some words or expressions may be difficult to hear. If someone with hearing loss asks you to repeat what you said, do so in a clear and steady voice. If they still don’t understand, try using different words to convey the same meaning. Spelling a difficult word or providing the first letter can also help. Don’t say “never mind,” which implies they are not worthy of your effort.
Be willing to experiment. New hearing enhancement devices are coming to market all the time. Try the latest gadget or experiment with different hearing aid programs. Together you might find something that works well for watching TV or dining out.
Seek out hearing accommodations in public. Many movie theaters offer captioning devices that can be used for any movie. Find a local theater that does so you can keep going to the movies together. Some public spaces have installed hearing loops which, when linked to a t-coil in someone’s hearing aid, can broadcast sound directly into the hearing aid and make it easier to hear a theater performance or lecture. Check local listings for availability.
Embrace the hearing loss community. Encourage your loved one to meet other people with hearing loss. It is wonderful to connect with others who understand your experience, plus it is a great way to pick up tools and tricks of the trade. Find a local Hearing Loss Association of America chapter.