Hearing loss is a reality for some 48 million Americans. About 1 out of 500 babies is born with some type of hearing loss, and it can appear in the course of our lives in a number of ways— But, by far, the most common type of problematic hearing loss is age-related hearing loss, or “presbycusis.” About one-third of those aged 60–69 have hearing loss, and two-thirds of those aged 70 and up have it. By age 100, nearly everyone has hearing loss, suggesting we will all experience it eventually if we only live long enough.
Hearing loss can bring with it a few unfortunate side effects, like depression, anxiety, brain atrophy, and even earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia. New studies are released all the time outlining the damage that untreated hearing loss can do. But before hearing loss causes any health problems, it is first and foremost an impediment to connection. Hearing loss makes it harder to communicate, and that throws up a barrier between us and the people we love.
If someone you love is having hearing issues, it’s important to do your best to maintain a connection with them. Hearing loss can be frightening, and people often go through a period of denial before accepting that they have hearing loss and need to start treating it with hearing aids. There are a few things you can do to help your loved ones with hearing loss to stay connected, wherever they are along their hearing journey.
A Little Empathy, a Little Patience
Hearing loss is frustrating for everyone involved. It’s important to try to remember that your loved one’s experience of the world around them is different than yours as a result of their hearing loss. While it can be frustrating to see them struggle differently in different situations, it’s important to try to understand what they’re experiencing, as this will help them to better-understand their experience, as well. The more they can articulate their own concerns about hearing loss, the more it will become clear to them that hearing aids are a good idea!
Avoid Bustling Environments
Hearing loss may not pose that much of a problem in the course of a one-on-one conversation in a quiet room, but things can change drastically inside a restaurant or bar, when the environment becomes more chaotic. Add in more voices to the conversation, and it becomes worse. Trying to hear in these conditions is exhausting for a person with hearing loss, so try to understand they may need to leave early, or that they may not want to go to a busy restaurant or bar, even if that means you have to miss out on your favorite meal or cocktail.
Some larger restaurants have some quieter areas that may be appropriate. When you’re being seated, keep this in mind and ask for the quietest table they have. This will usually be away from the kitchen, the register, and the doorway. Some places may even accommodate a request to have the music turned down, or the lights turned up.
Emphasize the Visual
Dimly lit environments can also be problematic, as lips and facial expressions are harder to read. Hearing loss makes us more reliant on these visual cues to follow a conversation, so try to keep the light levels up and keep your lips visible while you speak.
Similarly, if you’re used to having phone calls with your loved one, suggest that maybe they’d prefer a video call. This might be more fun, anyway!
A few guidelines can go a long way in terms of making yourself verbally understood.
- Don’t Shout – Speaking a little louder is a good idea, but don’t break out of your normal speaking voice. Shouting sounds different than talking, and words might get confused. Shouting can also distort the ears, or a set of hearing aids, which can make what you’re saying even less intelligible.
- Insert Some Space – Don’t draw out your vowel sounds, but simply add a little extra pause between each word you speak.
- Rephrase – If your loved one didn’t understand what you just said, try saying it a different way, rather than saying the same thing again. By rephrasing, you add more information that will provide a different set of context clues, and your loved one will be more likely to comprehend.
Suggest Hearing Aids
Some people are more receptive to hearing aids than others, but it’s worth mentioning. If your loved one is resistant, try not to push hearing aids too hard, but you can remind them of the benefits that hearing aids have for our health and well-being, and how they do a great job of facilitating communication.