Do’s & Don’ts for Accommodating People with Hearing Loss

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Do you have a friend who’s experiencing hearing loss? You want to support them through this difficult experience and help them enjoy conversations with family and friends, but it can be hard to know how to effectively accommodate your friend or loved one with hearing loss.

Rising Frustration

If you have a loved one with hearing loss, there’s a good chance you noticed their hearing loss before they did. Their hearing has changed gradually over the past few months, and their brain has made slight accommodations to help them hear. Until you bring it to their attention, they might not realize they haven’t been hearing the sound of birds, or that they’ve been turning up the volume on the TV or the phone to uncomfortable levels.

As their hearing loss worsens, your loved one will start asking you to repeat yourself several times, and may never quite understand you, even if you shout at them. When you’re out with friends, they might ask you to repeat what someone across the table has said and you find yourself getting more upset and frustrated. You’ll both get impatient, and new tensions make creep into your relationship.

Brain in Overdrive

If you know someone with hearing loss, remember that their brain is in overdrive. Their brain is struggling to make sense of the incomplete sounds around them, attempting to separate speech sounds from background noise, and trying to fill in the blanks on anything they haven’t heard. They also sense your rising frustration, and feel you getting more upset at their inability to hear. All this extra work adds up to a lot of fatigue, as their brain struggles to find coping mechanisms for the hearing loss.

Accommodating People with Hearing Loss

When it comes to supporting your friend, your immediate reaction is to make any and all accommodations you can to help them hear better. Before you make big sacrifices, think about what’s best for your friend, and follow the do’s and don’ts of accommodating hearing loss.

Do rephrase, don’t repeat: When your friend with hearing loss asks you to repeat yourself, don’t say the exact same words again. Chances are they won’t understand you a second time either. Rephrase what you said, choosing different words, and help your friend hear what you’ve said.

Don’t enable them: You want your loved on to be able to participate in group conversations, but you can’t sacrifice yourself or all your energy to help them hear. If your friend is relying on you to help them hear in conversations, encourage them to have some one-on-one conversations, or ask others in the group for help. Finally, help them realize they need professional help, and encourage them to get their hearing tested.

Do stay calm: It can be extremely frustrating when your loved one has hearing loss and can’t hear clearly. Stay calm, and never tell them to get their hearing tested when you’re in the middle of an argument. Help them see that they have hearing loss by giving them examples of times they can’t hear. This could include turning up the TV volume far too high, sleeping through their alarm, struggling to order at a restaurant, and having a hard time following conversation.

Do talk about hearing aids: You want to help your friend hear and accommodate their hearing loss, but you can’t keep up with the changes in their hearing, and it’s having a negative effect on you as well as your loved one. Talk about hearing aids with your loved one, and mention all the great features that make hearing easy, such as Bluetooth technology to seamlessly connect the hearing aids to a smartphone and stream audio right to the hearing aids. Hearing aids won’t amplify every sound, and will be calibrated to match your loved one’s unique hearing needs.

Encouraging your Friend to Get Hearing Aids

Your friend or loved one with hearing loss may be reluctant to get hearing aids for fear they might seem old. Show them that modern hearing aids are sleek, elegant devices that will help them hearing clearly, and stay socially active. They won’t have to live with listening fatigue, they’ll be able to follow conversations without asking people to repeat themselves, and enjoy a great quality of life.