Improving Communication with Hearing Loss

Hearing loss has the potential to interfere with our abilities to communicate, which in turn causes challenges in different areas of our lives. By treating hearing loss and making a few adjustments in our lives, we can accommodate clear communication for ourselves or with our loved ones who are hard of hearing.

We’ll take a look at how hearing loss creates challenges with communication and provide different accommodations to make communication easier with hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Interferes with Our Ability to Communicate

For people with hearing loss, speech recognition is one of the greatest challenges.

Imagine this: if you are constantly asked to repeat yourself, would you get frustrated? If you are communicating with an intimate partner, how difficult would it be if they were unable to acknowledge what you say? You’re at a business meeting, and you can’t pick up your colleague’s cues during a presentation; does this make you feel awkward and uncomfortable? In a party, you’re standing in a circle with a group of friends and miss every other word and maybe a joke; do you feel left out?

All of these scenarios affect people with hearing loss, or people who interact with those with hearing loss. For this reason, hearing loss does not just affect one person – it affects families, workplaces, and communities.

For people with hearing loss, speech recognition is one of the greatest challenges. Depending on the degree and configuration of hearing loss, people may struggle to understand full sentences, confuse similar speech sounds, or have difficulty concentrating or anticipating speech patterns.

As most of us know, healthy channels of communication are the bedrock of healthy relationships. Whether it is your partner, parent, child, friend, colleague, or neighbor, our ability to navigate conversations and interact with one another is crucial to the relationship. Speech recognition, when compromised, could chip away at our important interpersonal relationships and create misunderstandings, frustrations, and rifts.

hearing otoscopeHow Untreated Hearing Loss Affects Your Health and Well-Being

Hearing loss is an invisible condition that often occurs gradually. For this reason, it is not often thought of as a medical issue – perhaps until it is far too late. In fact, people wait an average of seven years from the time they first experience changes in their hearing abilities until the time they decide to seek help for their hearing loss.

Hearing loss affects everyone differently, and often, people are not aware at first that they are experiencing hearing loss. Paying attention to the signs of hearing loss and taking a hearing test as soon as possible is the best way to address the issue. Leaving hearing loss untreated could affect many different areas of your life. In addition to challenges with speech recognition – which already radiate to many areas of your life – untreated hearing loss leads to a number of adverse effects on your health and well-being.

Untreated hearing loss has been linked to anxiety, stress, and depression – in part due to the social isolation that comes with difficulties communicating. People who struggle to communicate with friends and loved ones may, over time, begin to avoid social situations. In addition, untreated hearing loss has been linked with an increased risk for developing dementia, due to the heavier cognitive load it places on your brain. Hearing actually happens in your brain – so when you struggle to hear, your brain has to work “overtime” to accommodate the unclear signals. In time, this could lead to an increased risk for dementia.

Studies have found that people with untreated hearing loss tend to have lower earning power than their colleagues with normal hearing or hearing loss treated with hearing aids. People with untreated hearing loss are also at higher risk for falls and accidents, and have a higher rate of hospitalization.

If you experience a hearing loss and have yet to seek treatment, the most important step is scheduling a hearing test with an audiologist or licensed hearing professional.

Disclosure Strategies that Help Improve Communication

Results from this survey revealed that there are three main strategies for disclosing hearing loss: non-disclosure, basic disclosure, and multipurpose disclosure.

A 2015 study from Massachusetts Eye and Ear provides those of us with hearing loss useful information for establishing clear channels of communication. From a survey of 337 people with hearing loss, researchers examined the ways in which they disclosed this information with their various communication partners.

Results from this survey revealed that there are three main strategies for disclosing hearing loss: non-disclosure, basic disclosure, and multipurpose disclosure.

With nondisclosure, people do not reveal any information whatsoever about their hearing loss and might just ask their conversation partner to repeat themselves. An example of nondisclosure is: “I can’t hear you. Please speak up.”

With basic disclosure, people may hint at having hearing loss, but do not provide much helpful information for accommodation. An example of basic disclosure is: “I’m partially deaf due to an infection I had years ago.”

Multipurpose disclosure simultaneously discloses the existence of hearing loss and provides conversation partners with information to better accommodate through the course of communication. An example of multipurpose disclosure is: “I don’t hear as well out of my right ear. Please walk on my left side.”

While all three disclosure strategies have their uses depending on the situations in which they are deployed, multipurpose disclosure is deemed the most effective. Of the three, researchers believe that multipurpose disclosure is the most effective way of revealing a hearing loss, as well as dictating the terms for proper accommodations to help ease the challenges of communication. Says Dr. Konstantina Stankovic, one of the researchers in the study, “We think it can be empowering for patients to know that these strategies, and especially the multipurpose disclosure strategy, are available to them. Hearing loss is an invisible disability; however, asking people to slow down or face someone with hearing loss while speaking may improve communication.”

Communication in the Workplace

Approximately 60% of the American workforce experiences some degree of hearing loss. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide people with hearing loss information on accommodations required in the workplace.

According to the EEOC, the ADA “requires employers to provide adjustments or modifications – called reasonable accommodations – to enable applicants and employees with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities unless doing so would be an undue hardship (that is, a significant difficulty or expense).”

It is important to keep in mind that if you are an employee with a hearing loss, you must advocate for yourself with your employer and request reasonable accommodation as needed. According to EEOC, “There are no ‘magic words’ that a person has to use when requesting a reasonable accommodation. A person simply has to tell the employer that she needs an adjustment or change at work because of her hearing impairment. A request for reasonable accommodation also can come from a family member, friend, health professional, or other representative on behalf of a person with a hearing disability.”

For people who experience hearing loss or deafness, the ADA requires employers to provide accommodations such as:

  • a sign language interpreter;
  • assistive technology (captioned telephones, video relay service, telephone headset, appropriate emergency notification systems, and/or assistive computer software, etc.);
  • assistive listening devices (ALDs);
  • communication access real time translation (CART), which translates voice into text at real-time speeds;
  • appropriate written memos and notes;
  • work area adjustments (moving a desk away from a noisy area, emergency alarm with strobe lighting, etc.);
  • altering an employee’s marginal job functions;
  • reassignment to a vacant position;
  • other modifications that would allow a qualified applicant/employee with a hearing disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

(Source: EEOC)

General Communication Tips

At Home

If you, or your loved one, experience a hearing loss, there are a number of adjustments you can make in your communication routines.

The key thing is to make sure you are in the same space, ideally communicating at eye level and facing one another. People with hearing loss – even with hearing aids – use visual cues as much as listening while they communicate. Rather than calling out to each other from different rooms, it is better to go and make sure that you have each other’s attention.

Out & About

Make sure that you are using your hearing aids every day and that they are fully powered/have fully functioning batteries before going out for the day. Carry a spare set of batteries with you, just in case!

If you’re out to eat, ask to sit with your back to a wall. This helps improve communication, especially if you have many dinner companions.

Resources & Technology to Improve Communication

Hearing loss doesn’t have to be an isolating experience. The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) is a national organization with many different chapters in all 50 states. HLAA holds an annual convention and works on federal policy to benefit people with hearing loss. Visit their site here for more information on meetings to meet people in your community.

Another national organization that supports people with hearing loss is the American Speech Hearing Language Association (ASHA). ASHA provides resources for both people with hearing loss and hearing healthcare providers.

To learn more about hearing loss and to read the latest news in hearing research, visit the Hearing Health Foundation.

In addition to treating hearing loss with the use of hearing aids, there are other technologies out there that help improve communication.

Hearing Loops/Telecoils: Often found in public spaces, hearing loops connect to a PA system and delivers sound to your hearing aids via electromagnetic waves. If your hearing aids are equipped with a telecoil, simply switch your hearing aids to the telecoil function and immediately pick up clear sound.

Captioned Telephones: Captioned telephones transcribe conversations while you’re on the phone, displayed on an easy-to-read screen. This helps you communicate on the phone, which is often a challenging experience for people with hearing loss/hearing aids.

Smartphone-compatible hearing aids/apps: Certain hearing aid models provide wearers with the option to connect wirelessly to their smartphones. These hearing aids allow you to stream phone calls, video chats, music, movies, and other media directly to your ears.

Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs): Assistive listening devices come in many different shapes and sizes. There are certain ALDs that can be worn around the neck, amplifying sounds from your environment. Other ones include devices that use radio waves or infrared light to amplify and stream sound.

Hearing Aid Providers

It is important to remember that you are not alone in this process. If you are an important friend or family member in the life of a hearing impaired person, you can be that guide. Hearing loss has the potential to be an isolating experience. For people who have been living with hearing loss, finding the right solution is life-changing. Click below to find the right hearing care provider today.