This time of year, you might find yourself at some events where the whole family is assembled. Though you might have a good sense of how to best communicate with your closest family members, more distant relatives might join you for a meal, party, or other events. When you reconnect with these family members, it is important to help make the communication process easy for all involved. If you know that someone in your family has hearing loss, there are steps you can take to make communication easier. Though each person’s experience of hearing loss is unique, there are some common trends that you can keep in mind when you attend this event. Not all people with hearing loss will benefit from any one of these approaches, but they are good principles to keep in mind when you are reaching out to those extended family members who require accommodation of their needs.
The most important thing you can do to communicate with someone who has hearing loss is to ask what will be helpful and to listen to their requests. If you already know that someone has hearing loss, asking how you can help is a gesture of kindness and generosity in the first place. When you hear the specific accommodation requests, you can take them to heart and share them with others in the family, as well. For instance, some people will want you to speak into one ear rather than the other, and others will want you to carefully enunciate your words. When your family member makes a request, do your best to accommodate your speaking style.
Most people with hearing loss use their other senses to assist the communication process, and sight is the most useful tool. By looking directly at your family member, you can not only bridge the distance between you, but you can also offer important visual cues that are useful for communication. Whether they realize it or not, your family member is likely to watch mouth movements to get additional information for understanding speech. Not only is lip-reading a common habit, but facial expressions and body language provide crucial connotations to make sense of what you say.
If you take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of your family member with hearing loss, you might realize a few principles on your own. For instance, slowing down your speech and simplifying your language might seem like a helpful approach. However, that tactic can come across like you’re talking down to your family member. They might even feel like you think they are incapable of intelligent conversation. Of course, you know that those with hearing loss have no effects on their intelligence, but many people tend to talk to those with hearing loss as if they were children. On the other hand, when you empathize with your family member who has hearing loss, you will likely realize that raising your volume might help. If you continue talking as you would to anyone else, you can raise your volume enough to fill in some of the gaps in language. The principle of empathy can go a long way toward effective communication
Beyond all these communication strategies, the best thing you can do to help your family member with hearing loss is to encourage treatment. These tactics go a long way toward better communication, but many people find that their hearing ability declines with age. What might be helpful at this year’s holiday gathering might not work next year. The only durable solution for hearing loss is to seek treatment from a hearing health professional.
After a diagnostic exam, our experts will pair your family member with hearing assistance that is suited to their individual needs. When you engage in this conversation, be sure to lead with open-ended questions and a listening ear. Rather than telling your family member what to do, you can be most effective when you simply ask about past experiences of hearing and communication. Simply recalling past difficulties can be enough to help your family member with hearing loss take the essential next step of pursuing treatment from a hearing health professional.