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5 Tips for Speaking with Someone Who is Hard of Hearing

Can You Hear The Words Coming Out of My Mouth?

According to the National Institute of Health one third of people between ages 65 and 74 have some type of hearing loss. That number jumps to 50% after the age of 75. Hearing loss can be caused by age related changes in the ear or medical issues that are more common as we age such as stroke, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by sudden or accumulated damage to the ear caused by environmental sounds.

Hearing loss is not always the sound of silence. Millions of Americans of all ages experience tinnitus. Tinnitus is often described as ringing, buzzing, clicking, or hissing in the ears. Many of us experience tinnitus for a short period of time after watching the July 4th fireworks display. Seniors who have worked in the construction trades or as machinists, farmers, landscapers or military personnel are more likely to have hearing loss because they have been exposed to loud sounds repeatedly over a longer period of time.

If we are not able to hear clearly, we will have difficulty understanding what is being said to us. The directions the doctor gave us can be misunderstood. The sound of the smoke detector going off may sound much like the tinnitus we live with every day. Suddenly, the questions you are answering were not the ones asked. This has the potential for a misdiagnosis of cognitive impairment.

5 Tips for speaking with someone who is hard of hearing-

  1. Ask what works best for them. Perhaps you need to sit on the side of the “good ear”, or the person may need to put in their hearing aids or use other assistive devices.
  2. Sit face to face and reduce background noise as much as possible. Turn off the tv or go to a quieter area. By using the person’s name, it lets them know that you are speaking to them.
  3. Speak clearly. Much of what we hear and understand has to do with what we see. We naturally read lips even when we aren’t aware of doing it. If we over enunciate or exaggerate our words it distorts our mouth making it difficult to read our lips. Our facial expressions also help us to determine the meaning of what a person is saying. Hand gestures and pantomime can also be helpful.
  4. Don’t yell. When we yell it distorts the sound of our voices making it more difficult to understand what is being said.
  5. Ask one question at a time and allow time for the person to respond. Don’t ask multiple rapid fire questions such as- “What did you do today? Are you feeling okay? Did you talk to the doctor?” If the person is having difficulty after you have repeated the same question several times, find another way to say it. It can be very frustrating when the speaker shrugs and says never mind.

If you find that you or your loved one is having a hard time hearing, don’t assume it’s a natural part of aging. Contact your primary doctor, an otolaryngologist (also known as an ENT) or an audiologist to find out the cause of your hearing loss and possible treatments. If you lose your hearing suddenly, you need to see a doctor right away.

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