By Lisa Tseng, MD
There are many health conditions that could be considered a “family affair”, meaning that the entire family might be affected. A broken leg might require the family to do more to assist the injured person. Other physical disabilities that required the use of a wheelchair could necessitate moving to a new house that allows for a ramp.
What about hearing loss? After all, it is the person who cannot hear well who has the problem, right? Not really, and this issue deserves more attention than it receives. Hearing loss affects the entire family. There are many challenges for those with hearing loss, and for those who are living with them. In many cases when we are in our homes we are more relaxed and might have some communication habits that are not ideal. We may talk to our family members who are in another room, while the TV is on and the dog is barking. People with normal hearing can have challenges in these instances. People with hearing loss have it worse.
Hearing loss can create frustration for all. If the television is too loud, one family member may have to choose to tolerate it, or leave the room. If sleep schedules clash, one person may have disrupted sleep due to the volume of a TV or radio. If people with hearing loss do not enjoy social gatherings because it is too hard to communicate, they may decide to stay home. Their family then has another choice to make: go alone or stay home.
There are tips and technologies that can make life easier for those with hearing loss and their families. One of the best tips to help communications with a hearing impaired family member is to get their attention first. We all get absorbed in what we are doing and getting their attention first at least ensures the person is aware of a conversation. Other tips:
✔ Try not to change topics without giving warning. If you start talking about the plans for the upcoming weekend and then suddenly launch into an unrelated topic, your family member may have difficulties following the conversation.
✔ Slow down a bit. Encourage those precious grandchildren and others to do the same. Encourage good communication habits for all. Pauses in the conversation help too!
✔ Mute the TV and turn down the radio volume. When an important conversation is taking place, be sure you have eliminated disruptive background noises.
✔ Learn about your loved one’s hearing loss. It can seem as if they aren’t listening or have “selective hearing”. This may be the case, but it’s more likely their hearing loss affects some pitches more than others. That means they can hear some voices and sounds better than others.
✔ If it is vital information you are relaying, double-check that you were understood!
✔ Being a “human hearing aid” can also be a challenge. If your loved one has difficulty using the telephone, or cannot hear emergency warning signals, the Hearing Loss Association of America is a great resource: hearingloss.org
Communication is a two-way street. It is the responsibility of the person who is talking to do what they can to make it easier. It is also the responsibility of the person with hearing loss to use technology to make life easier for all. That includes acknowledging a hearing problem, and taking the steps to obtain help. If both parties do their part, life can be easier!
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