Communication Tips for Family Members

Living with hearing loss can be difficult not only for the person with the loss but also for those around them. Being aware of the situation and making slight changes in how we communicate can drastically improve the day-to-day interactions between individuals with hearing loss and their family, friends, and co-workers. Communication is a two-way street; it is important that both sides are willing to work together. Easier communication can reduce feelings of stress, isolation, and depression in those living with hearing loss.

The following are tips and techniques that can be used to help with communication:

  • Ensure you have the person’s attention before speaking. Many individuals with hearing loss have difficulty locating sound and may use lip/speech-reading to aid in hearing. In fact, there is often some degree of lip/speech-reading being used as the brain will naturally take in this information to help when a hearing loss is present, whether the person is aware of it or not.
  • Speaking face-to-face is very important. Patients frequently tell me their significant other starts speaking to them from another room. This usually does not end well for either person! Sound does not always travel well from room to room and even with hearing aids the person may not catch what is being said. Moving closer to the person is helpful.
  • When speaking face-to-face, it helps if your face is not covered, by your hand for example, and that you can see the person clearly.
  • Slow down! A common complaint patients share with me is that people tend to speak too quickly. Speaking too slowly does not help either. Just speak at a natural pace and do not overemphasize words or sounds. Enunciate clearly.
  • Shouting or speaking loudly does not tend to help. It can sometimes be perceived that you are shouting at the person making them feel as though you are angry with them.
  • Reduce background noise or competing sound sources. For example, turn off the radio or TV, or turn off the tap when washing dishes, if you are trying to have a conversation. It can be very distracting and fatiguing to have to listen to someone over the extra noise. If possible, it is best to move to a quieter area. Even small noises, such as the refrigerator humming, can be distracting.
  • Rephrase rather than repeat if the person does not hear or understand what you have said. Some words are easier to hear or lip-read than others.
  • Check-in with the person periodically. Ask if they understood what you have said or if they have any questions, or if there is anything you can do to improve the listening situation.
  • Try to be patient. It can sometimes be stressful and tiring to follow conversations when a hearing loss is present. If you are patient and understanding it can help others relax and feel comfortable, making the conversation more enjoyable for all.
  • Encourage the person to seek the advice of an audiologist and have a hearing test. Identifying a potential hearing problem can shed light on the situation and appropriate intervention and management can then be introduced. It may be a good idea to accompany the person to the appointment to act as a second “set of ears” and to provide emotional support.