Supporting a Loved One with Hearing Loss

Supporting a Loved One with Hearing Loss

In Hearing Loss by Dr. Arica Black, AuD

Dr. Arica Black, AuD
Latest posts by Dr. Arica Black, AuD (see all)

In the US today, about 48 million people are living with some form of hearing loss. Most of us know someone who has hearing loss, and many of us may experience it ourselves. The thing is, hearing loss doesn’t only affect the person who has it, but everyone they’re close to as well. If your spouse or other loved one has hearing loss, chances are it has created a concern for you. The more you can learn about hearing loss, the better chance you’ll have of helping them live with it in a way that’s best for both of you.

Talk to Them About Hearing Loss

Hearing loss has the potential to cause strife and frustration in relationships. Aside from miscommunications, there is also a tendency for communication to become less frequent altogether, limited to only the most necessary conversations. The effect can be a loss of intimacy.

You’ll need to extend some empathy, and they’ll need to do the same. It can be easy for someone to blame themselves, or to feel blamed, for their hearing loss. Talk to them about what their experience is like, and share your own as well, with patience and kindness. They may be feeling scared, frustrated, angry or all three. These conversations can be not only a time to share feelings, but you may find some practical ways you can help each other to work better together despite your loved one’s hearing loss.

Be Their Advocate

Just how much you can advocate for your loved one will depend on the nature of your relationship.  Acknowledging their hearing loss with other parties and reminding others of it in situations where it might be forgotten is a good place to start. If there’s a family gathering, for example, suggest hosting it in a quieter place, rather than the loud sports bar with dark lighting and lots of televisions. You can sit next to them at a larger dinner table and help by repeating a punch line here and there or helping them to understand a question someone is asking from further away.  In most situations, hearing aids would allow them to participate in a group gathering without needing assistance.

Keep Some Tips in Mind

Communicating with a person suffering from hearing loss can be easier if a few guidelines are followed. Hearing loss has the effect of dulling sound, a bit like you’re talking to them from another room even when you’re right next to them. (Try Starkey’s Hearing Loss Simulator if you want to be able to better imagine it.)

While speech communication may be difficult with hearing loss, much of our communication can be in body language, facial expressions and lip reading. If you have a beard or mustache that obscures your mouth, consider shaving to help your loved one read your lips better!

Try and keep the following tips in mind while you’re talking to your loved one suffering from hearing loss:

  • Face them directly while talking – They’ll have a harder time understanding you if you’re turning your head or looking elsewhere in the room. Try to stay focused on them, and watch their face for clues as to whether they’re following you or getting lost.
  • Don’t start talking in the next room – Hearing loss will make it harder to locate which of the next rooms you’re talking from, not to mention they are much less likely to hear what you’re saying.
  • Rephrase, don’t repeat – It will give your loved one more information to work with to say things a different way, rather than saying the exact same sentence again. If you’re trying to communicate a single word, try spelling it out in the way a person might spell an unusual surname over the phone, adding words for confusing consonants (/D/ as in David, /S/ as in Sam, etc).
  • Speak naturally – Shouting can come off as angry, even when you’re simply trying to be understood. What’s more, it can distort the ears or a set of hearing aids, making the sound less discernible. While it’s a good idea to speak a little more loudly than normal, keep your voice within the level of a normal speaking voice. It can be helpful to speak more slowly, but do this by adding a little pause between your words, not by drawing out vowel sounds.
  • Say their name before talking – Lots of miscommunications and frustrations come about when one person is talking and the other doesn’t realize it yet. By saying your loved one’s name before beginning to speak, you can be sure they’re listening before you talk.

Encourage a Hearing Test

If your loved one is struggling with hearing loss and isn’t wearing hearing aids, it’s important to encourage them to get a hearing test. Hearing tests are painless and do not come with any obligation to purchase hearing aids.

The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit, recommends getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50 and once every 3 years after that. If your loved one is due for a hearing test, encourage them to get one. It may help them see just how much they could gain by starting to wear hearing aids!

At The Hearing Doctor, our Doctors of Audiology are here to help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.