Tips for Speaking with Someone with Hearing Loss

Posted by Editor Ed @editored, Mar 7, 2019

I’m deaf in one ear and have a 30% loss (high frequencies) in the other. I’ve had a hearing aid for 50 years, since I was 18.

I’ve found the following Web pages to be particularly good for letting others know how to help a hard-of-hearing person hear them. I can’t post the URLs right now as a new member, so I’ve included what these pages say.

“Communicating with People with Hearing Loss” (from ucsfhealth) https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/communicating_with_people_with_hearing_loss/

Successful communication requires the efforts of all people involved in a conversation. Even when the person with hearing loss utilizes hearing aids and active listening strategies, it is crucial that others involved in the communication process consistently use good communication strategies, including the following:

1. Face the hearing impaired person directly, on the same level and in good light whenever possible. Position yourself so that the light is shining on the speaker’s face, not in the eyes of the listener.

2. Do not talk from another room. Not being able to see each other when talking is a common reason people have difficulty understanding what is said.

3. Speak clearly, slowly, distinctly, but naturally, without shouting or exaggerating mouth movements. Shouting distorts the sound of speech and may make speech reading more difficult.

4. Say the person’s name before beginning a conversation. This gives the listener a chance to focus attention and reduces the chance of missing words at the beginning of the conversation.

5. Avoid talking too rapidly or using sentences that are too complex. Slow down a little, pause between sentences or phrases, and wait to make sure you have been understood before going on.

6. Keep your hands away from your face while talking. If you are eating, chewing, smoking, etc. while talking, your speech will be more difficult to understand. Beards and moustaches can also interfere with the ability of the hearing impaired to speech read.

7. If the hearing impaired listener hears better in one ear than the other, try to make a point of remembering which ear is better so that you will know where to position yourself.

8. Be aware of possible distortion of sounds for the hearing impaired person.They may hear your voice, but still may have difficulty understanding some words.

9. Most hearing impaired people have greater difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise. Try to minimize extraneous noise when talking.

10. Some people with hearing loss are very sensitive to loud sounds. This reduced tolerance for loud sounds is not uncommon. Avoid situations where there will be loud sounds when possible.

11. If the hearing impaired person has difficulty understanding a particular phrase or word, try to find a different way of saying the same thing, rather than repeating the original words over and over.

12. Acquaint the listener with the general topic of the conversation. Avoid sudden changes of topic. If the subject is changed, tell the hearing impaired person what you are talking about now. In a group setting, repeat questions or key facts before continuing with the discussion.

13. If you are giving specific information — such as time, place or phone numbers — to someone who is hearing impaired, have them repeat the specifics back to you. Many numbers and words sound alike.

14. Whenever possible, provide pertinent information in writing, such as directions, schedules, work assignments, etc.

15. Recognize that everyone, especially the hard-of-hearing, has a harder time hearing and understanding when ill or tired.

16. Pay attention to the listener. A puzzled look may indicate misunderstanding. Tactfully ask the hearing impaired person if they understood you, or ask leading questions so you know your message got across.

17. Take turns speaking and avoid interrupting other speakers.

18. Enroll in aural rehabilitation classes with your hearing impaired spouse or friend.

“10 Tips For Communicating With People With Hearing Loss” (from Beltone)

1. Get their attention Getting the listener’s attention before you start speaking will give them a moment to shift their attention and focus on you. Try saying the person’s name, touching their arm or using a gesture to get their attention.

2. Eye contact Ensure that you are face to face with your hearing impaired listener. Maintaining eye contact will help them focus on what you’re saying. Lip reading and facial expressions play a large part in communicating for both sides of the conversation.

3. Speak naturally and clearly – don’t shout Speak clearly, at a normal or slightly slower speed and enunciate your words. Speaking in a slightly louder voice may also help your listener understand, but be careful not to shout. Shouting distorts the sound of your words and can make lip reading more difficult.

4. Keep your hands away from your face Most listeners depend on lip reading and facial expressions to understand conversations more completely. Be sure not to cover your face and avoid exaggerated facial expressions that may distort your mouth and impede the listener’s ability to lip read.

5. Rephrase If you find that you’re being asked to repeat yourself, try rephrasing and using different words to make your message easier to understand. Ask leading or clarifying questions throughout the conversation to ensure your message is clear.

6. Avoid excessive background noise Background noise makes listening conditions difficult for those with hearing loss, try to avoid situations where there will be loud noises whenever possible. Turn off the television/radio, move away from noisy areas and if you’re in a social environment, try to find a quiet place to sit or a seat in a restaurant that is away from the kitchen or large gatherings.

7. Talk into their “good ear” Many people who suffer from hearing loss tend to have one ear that is stronger than the other. Look for cues as to which ear that is, ask them if appropriate, and situate yourself on that side of your listener.

8. Watch your listener Pay attention to your listener’s facial expressions and body language for signs of confusion or that they don’t understand. If you notice that they seem puzzled, tactfully ask if they understand or if they need clarification.

9. Speak to the person, not the interpreter If your listener communicates via an interpreter, be sure to keep your eyes on and speak directly to your listener and not the interpreter. It may seem odd at first, but the interpreter is a tool to help the listener communicate.

10. Be understanding You may feel understandably frustrated when interacting with the hearing impaired, but keep in mind how it must be for them on a daily basis. Be patient. Communicating with hearing loss is a cooperative effort and requires understanding from both sides.

I’d add a few other pieces of advice:

1. Don’t talk while you are walking away.

2. When getting into or out of a car with someone, don’t talk while you are on opposite sides. Wait until you’re both in the car, or until you’re close to each other outside the car. And don’t talk while the garage door is going up or down.

3. Never say “Never mind.” It makes the person you say it to feel unimportant to you!

When I’m on the phone with someone who’s speaking too quickly, or who has a foreign accent (which I generally find hard to understand), I always start by saying that I’m hard of hearing, and that I’d appreciate it if they could speak a bit slower (and louder, if I think that would help). Sales people and help line people often forget that sometime during the conversation. If so, I try to gently remind them.

I hope this is helpful!

As a followup, when I'm in a situation where more than one person talks at the same time (such as a meeting or at a restaurant), I let them know (as gently and understandingly as possible) that I can't hear when that happens, and I ask people to try to avoid that. This generally works best when you know the other people quite well, such as coworkers and family, but I've done it in all kinds of situations.

Same thing if someone keeps talking before I finish, which makes it so I can't hear them (or myself!). Again, I get the best results when I remember to state that as gently (but firmly) as possible.

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Hi @editored, This is a great discussion to start. You will be able to add URLs in a few days. There is a brief period where new members can't post links. We do this to deter spammers and keep the community safe. Clearly the links you wanted to post were not spam. Please allow me to post them for you.

Communicating with People with Hearing Loss from University of California San Francisco Health
> https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/communicating_with_people_with_hearing_loss/

10 Tips For Communicating With People With Hearing Loss from Belltone Blog
> https://blog.beltone.com/2015/04/08/10-tips-for-communicating-with-people-with-hearing-loss/

I especially appreciate the three tips you added at the end. I think they also apply to people without hearing loss. Given your username of Editor Ed, I assume you are an editor and words are important to you. You want to hear them all, right? Thanks for getting this conversation started.

I'd like to hear more tips about how to cope in a situation where there's a lot of background noise. Most people offer advice of avoiding those situations, but what do you do when it can't be avoided?

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Colleen, thanks for your kind words. I really appreciate it. I hope the articles that I posted, and my comments, are helpful for people.

Yes, I am an editor, as well as a translator, between English and Spanish. I think that being hard of hearing had a lot to do with my choice of career. I can do my editing work, and my translating work, with just myself and my computer, without having to hear what anyone is saying. I don't hear well enough to do interpretation of any kind, where I would listen to what someone is saying, and then repeat it in the other language.

Somewhat amusingly, a law enforcement agency once called me and asked me to listen in on legally authorized wiretaps, and take notes. I tried to visualize myself saying “Excuse me, Mr. Suspect, I didn't get that. Could you please repeat it?”

You asked if I had any suggestions for hearing in noisy environments. I use an assistive listening device in situations where my hearing aid is not enough. A friend asked me to make suggestions for her mother, so I've been gathering information about the device I use, and about others. When I finish, I’ll be glad to post that on the forum. Would it be okay to mention specific manufacturers and models, and make comments about them?

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@editored

Colleen, thanks for your kind words. I really appreciate it. I hope the articles that I posted, and my comments, are helpful for people.

Yes, I am an editor, as well as a translator, between English and Spanish. I think that being hard of hearing had a lot to do with my choice of career. I can do my editing work, and my translating work, with just myself and my computer, without having to hear what anyone is saying. I don't hear well enough to do interpretation of any kind, where I would listen to what someone is saying, and then repeat it in the other language.

Somewhat amusingly, a law enforcement agency once called me and asked me to listen in on legally authorized wiretaps, and take notes. I tried to visualize myself saying “Excuse me, Mr. Suspect, I didn't get that. Could you please repeat it?”

You asked if I had any suggestions for hearing in noisy environments. I use an assistive listening device in situations where my hearing aid is not enough. A friend asked me to make suggestions for her mother, so I've been gathering information about the device I use, and about others. When I finish, I’ll be glad to post that on the forum. Would it be okay to mention specific manufacturers and models, and make comments about them?

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Hearingloss.org (Hearing Loss Association of America or HLAA) has excellent information on hearing assistive devices and technology.

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@editored Thank you, great tips to pass on to my husband, son and daughter.
JK

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@contentandwell

@editored Thank you, great tips to pass on to my husband, son and daughter.
JK

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@contentandwell, I'm glad you found these tips helpful and will pass them on.

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@maryjax

Hearingloss.org (Hearing Loss Association of America or HLAA) has excellent information on hearing assistive devices and technology.

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@maryjax, thanks for posting this.

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Definitely have now passed on a copy of similar tips to my adult children.

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Great. Please let me know if the tips were helpful!

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@editored

Colleen, thanks for your kind words. I really appreciate it. I hope the articles that I posted, and my comments, are helpful for people.

Yes, I am an editor, as well as a translator, between English and Spanish. I think that being hard of hearing had a lot to do with my choice of career. I can do my editing work, and my translating work, with just myself and my computer, without having to hear what anyone is saying. I don't hear well enough to do interpretation of any kind, where I would listen to what someone is saying, and then repeat it in the other language.

Somewhat amusingly, a law enforcement agency once called me and asked me to listen in on legally authorized wiretaps, and take notes. I tried to visualize myself saying “Excuse me, Mr. Suspect, I didn't get that. Could you please repeat it?”

You asked if I had any suggestions for hearing in noisy environments. I use an assistive listening device in situations where my hearing aid is not enough. A friend asked me to make suggestions for her mother, so I've been gathering information about the device I use, and about others. When I finish, I’ll be glad to post that on the forum. Would it be okay to mention specific manufacturers and models, and make comments about them?

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I have a mic that works with my phone & HAs. It is a lifesaver in groups, noisy vehicles and other stressful environments. Resound 3-D Links HAs work with iPhone to date, as does my mic.

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Hello, I just came across this discussion titled "Tips for Speaking with Someone with Hearing Loss" and I sincerely appreciate all the suggestions! If only everyone, especially those without hearing loss, could read and absorb them! I had no idea there were support groups for hearing loss and I only came across this discussion after another heart-wrenching family meeting in which my hearing loss was discussed as a major source of deterioration in the family relationship. Since I already wear hearing aids, I wouldn't expect such critical remarks, yet that's where we are and I know many other households experience much the same problems that we do.

For the record, I wear Phonak amplified BTE Bluetooth hearing aids which help somewhat with my hearing loss, but they amplify a lot of unwanted noise as well. Like many with hearing loss, I also lip read somewhat if I am facing someone.

In my situation, I've done my best to deal with my hearing loss over the years, which first became inconveniently noticeable at around the time I turned 55 (10 years ago). My co-worker, who sat right next to me, had a very soft voice that forced me to lean in closer whenever he spoke to me and even then I often had to ask him to repeat himself. At that same time, my wife began expressing frustration over my asking her to repeat herself so often. An audiologist told me I had borderline hearing loss and that the best solution was to be my own advocate, which meant asking people to repeat themselves, speaking up, or even approaching them directly face-to-face. That worked for a few years; then my wife asked me to go for a follow-up hearing test and I've now been wearing hearing aids for around five years.

I have often told others that hearing loss is one of the most unforgiveable handicaps a person can have. Another is ADHD, but that's another topic for another discussion. Frankly, I do not understand why those with hearing loss are often treated so callously, as though they are able to flip a switch and "fix it," but they "apparently" don't care about imposing their handicap on others. That's an incredible way to regard those with hearing loss, yet those are the vibes I've often received from others, including my spouse! In my youth I was exposed to many older folks with hearing loss, including my great-grandparents. They mostly yelled at each other because that's the only way they could hear what the other person was saying. I didn't regard them as being "mean" to each other or otherwise inconsiderate — I just knew they had severe hearing loss. In the same way, when they spoke loudly to me, I didn't ask them to speak more softly because I knew their loud tone wasn't intentional and I also knew that if they spoke at MY comfort level, they most likely wouldn't have been able to hear their own voices. Can you imagine speaking to someone while not hearing any sound coming out of your voice box? And would you ask anyone to do that so the sound of their voice will have a more pleasing effect on YOUR ears?

The main hurdle I have with hearing loss (relationship-wise) is somehow conveying to those with near-perfect hearing to not only be understanding of those who find themselves asking you to repeat yourself, but to also be understanding of those who are speaking LOUDER than normal because otherwise they may feel like they're whispering. Speaking for myself, I would never intentionally blare my words out to anyone, but if I AM, some gentle hand gestures indicating that I need to turn my volume down would be better received than later pointing out how rude and boisterous I come across with the tenor of my voice.

As a result of our latest family meeting discussing my failure to meet my wife and daughter's expectations with my voice levels, I've decided to do the following: (1) While on the phone (with the Bluetooth audio coming in to my hearing aids), I will either go to a separate room for a private conversation OR I will put the phone on "Speaker" so my wife can hear both ends of the conversation (because apparently I speak too loudly when the audio comes in to my hearing aids), (2) Since it is so difficult for me to speak when I cannot hear my own voice, I will henceforth try to limit conversations. This is the only solution I can come up with for a family member who claims my voice actually hurts her ears and doesn't want to have to put on ear plugs whenever I happen to be in the same room. By the way, this new approach applies even while I'm wearing my hearing aids. I do not always wear them, but it seems like even when I do, I speak too loudly.

I am surprised that I haven't been able to locate any helpful online articles addressing how to deal with folks who, despite wearing hearing aids, speak what is generally considered too loudly. I tried many different combinations on Google, but I couldn't find anything helpful. They all tend to assume that the person speaking too loudly doesn't already wear hearing aids. I'm obviously not an audiologist, but if I were one, I would put together SOMETHING to help guide family members of a loved one experiencing hearing loss AND the accompanying "loud volume" symptom. In the meantime, here are a few items that I personally wish my own family would consider:

1) BLAMING: Please do not insinuate or create an impression that this is your loved one's fault! Trust me, those with hearing loss WANT to hear you clearly and I highly doubt they ever mean to yell at you!
2) UNDERSTAND and accept that those with hearing loss are naturally going to speak louder than those without it! We are supposed to bear with each other, so unless someone with hearing loss sounds like a foghorn and is literally giving you a headache, try to bear with him/her a little without being hyper-critical. When you're trying to do the right thing, yet nonetheless criticized, it hurts. Show some compassion instead of repulsion or rejection.
3) GENTLE GESTURES vs verbal criticism: When the voice volume is simply too high, use some gentle hand gestures to guide the speaker, such as a gesture indicating you're turning down the volume on the radio. Using glaring-eyed frowns or other unbecoming facial gestures, or even calling a family meeting to put the offender in the "hot seat" (after the fact) is counter-productive to maintaining a healthy relationship.
4) GET TESTED: IF the speaker doesn't already wear hearing aids, then by all means gently suggest that he/she would greatly benefit from having a hearing exam. Hearing loss is truly a two-way street and those with hearing loss need to bear SOME responsibility in resolving the problem! So when it becomes fairly obvious there's a hearing problem going on, show your loved ones you care by getting a hearing test, and if the consensus is that you need hearing aids, then prove you care by getting them and wearing them.

In my own situation, I am saddened to say I was wearing hearing aids during a recent phone discussion, yet rules #1-3 above were not applied and the general family consensus seems to be it's my fault. While I will try to accommodate their vocal volume requirements, I think things could have been handled differently. In all fairness, there are some helpful articles out there addressing how to deal with a loved one experiencing hearing loss, such as facing them directly, not speaking to them from another room, reducing background noise, not shouting, etc. Those are all very helpful tips, but I hope what I just added will also be considered because I KNOW it's not just me! Thank you for allowing me to express my feelings!

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Hello @larryplano and welcome to Mayo Clinic Connect. I am not a regular member of this group, but I read with interest your post on approaches to conversations with those who are hearing impaired. Personally, I learned a lot and I thank you for that.

I'm sure the mentor of this group, @julieo4, will be in touch with you as well.

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