Ways to support someone with hearing loss and what to look out for
Many people struggle to get used the idea that they have a hearing loss. If it has happened suddenly they may need counselling. Sudden hearing loss can also effect others in the family and there are counselling services for close family to help them adjust the major change in their life. Gradual hearing loss can also be hard to come to terms with. They may not have been aware of the loss for some time and despite everyone around them realising that something is wrong, it may still come as a shock.
If a relative or friend has recently been diagnosed with a hearing loss there are many ways that you can help them to adjust. This can be as simple as listening to them and offering support and help if they need it.
Speak clearly and leave lots of pauses so that they can respond and ask questions to clarify what you have said. Reassure them that you do not mind repeating yourself and ask them what you can do to help them to hear you better. This may be something as simple as sitting face to face or making sure that you are on their ‘better’ side.
When talking with friends in a group, try not to speak over each other as this makes it really difficult to follow the conversation. Try to reduce any background noise and make sure the area is well lit so that they can see your faces and lip patterns. If they are unusually quiet during the conversation or looking confused, they may be missing what is being said. Fill them in on any exciting news or juicy gossip later on so they don’t miss anything important.
When you are out and about, it can be tempting to speak for them. Don’t do this unless they have specifically asked you to. They might ask for you to step in if a conversation is getting confusing but if they haven’t asked you, speaking for them will just make them feel more isolated and dependent on others.
You may also find that people talk to you instead and talk about the person with hearing loss as if they are not there. Responding with “I don’t know, why don’t you ask her” will soon set them straight. Alternatively you can change the conversation to make sure they are fully included again.
If they have been given hearing aids, it is important to be aware that there will still be times that they have trouble hearing you. Although technology has improved greatly, and modern hearing aids can be programmed to compensate for an exact hearing loss, they will not replace perfect hearing. So there may still be times when they miss what has been said or they speak out of turn. It is important not to laugh or make them feel silly. They may stop trying to stay involved in conversations and become stressed or withdrawn. Simply acknowledge their point and let them know that the conversation has moved on.
It is easy for people with hearing loss to become isolated and depressed. They may feel awkward in social situations or feel left out of conversations. They may find it difficult to stay in touch with people if they speak too quietly or are unsupportive. On the other hand, some friends may think that the person is being rude or uninterested in them if they are unaware of their hearing difficulties.
Although it may be hard to talk about, it is important that they let others know about their hearing problem. Some people may be rude and refuse to repeat something with a “oh, never mind” or “forget it” but the majority of people will be supportive if they are aware of the situation.
If they are having trouble using the telephone, stay in touch using text and email. There are many kinds of amplified telephones available with a loud ring and caller volume control which will make their lives much easier. Most amplified telephones have a t-coil which they can use with the t switch on their hearing aid.
There are also lots of different hearing aid programmes that can help in different listening situations such as speech recognition and background noise suppression for noisy environments. Other programs include volume controls and directional microphones. When moving from one listening environment to another they may need a moment to adjust their hearing aid before they can tune in to the conversation. Don’t sit and stare at them while they do this, it will make them feel embarrassed. Simply carry on with small talk until they can join in.
Some hearing aids come with remote controls so that they can be adjusted discretely, without having to use the fiddly buttons on the hearing aid. The remote control will also take some practise to get used to, don’t draw attention to it, if they want to talk about it they will do so. All manufacturers will have remote control options including Phonak, Widex, Oticon, Unitron, Bernafon, Siemens, Starkey and Resound.
There are plenty of other accessories available which will help them to feel independent. These include door bells and phones which link up to a pager system so that they don’t miss callers, as well as special vibrating alarm clocks to help them get up in the morning.
Let them know that they can talk to you about their hearing aids by asking them how they are getting on with them, this way, they can talk about their hearing if they wish to, or they can simply change the subject. Be patient with them, some days they may seem to be able to hear better than others. This is more to do with concentration than hearing. If they are tired they will find much it harder to follow conversation.
You can also support them by offering to go to sign language or lip reading courses together. This will not only help you to communicate with each other, but it will be a great opportunity to meet other people who may be in the same situation. You will also learn more about deaf awareness and other clubs and support groups in your area.
About the Author: Paul Harrison has been involved in the hearing aid industry for 20 years and in that time has worked at both retail and manufacturer level (widex). He now operates www.yourhearing.co.uk which has a network of 120 qualified audiologists across the UK offering all the major makes and models of hearing aids.