Living with hearing loss is no small thing. While it is quite common - 20 percent of the U.S. population, or 48 million people are affected by hearing loss - for an individual, developing or living with the condition can be a big deal involving a range of emotions. For example, for children growing up with hearing loss who use hearing aids, they might feel different in school, and an older adult who has just recently developed hearing loss may feel nervous about looking different or being perceived as incompetent while wearing hearing aids.
When someone in your life has hearing loss and is having a difficult time, there are many things you can do to lend a hand, show your solidarity and offer support. Here are some ideas:
Get your hearing checked, too
If a friend or family member has recently been told by others or realized that he or she has hearing loss and is heading to the audiologist to have his or her hearing checked, you can offer to go along as a show of support. In fact, everyone can benefit from getting his or her hearing checked, especially people past age 40. This is because as we age, our chance of being affected by hearing loss increases, and as hearing loss is a very gradual process, you may start to lose your hearing without even realizing it. Thus, be proactive and get your hearing checked, even if you really don't think you have hearing loss. It's a great way to show solidarity with someone in your life.
Listen and understand
When people start to come to terms with their hearing loss, they often go through a grieving process, just as many people do for the loss of another function. You can support someone with hearing loss by listening to them and being empathetic. Recognize that the grieving process often involves denial, anger, guilt, fear, sadness, confusion and loneliness. Let your friend talk it out through the conversation, and you'll better understand him or her when you realize that he or she is dealing with denial, anger or sadness at the loss of his or her hearing.
Be an advocate
One thing you can do to show your support is to be an advocate for your loved one with hearing loss. For example, it can be especially difficult for a person with hearing loss to hear in group situations, whether it's at a dinner or party, due to the background noise. Before a family gathering, you can call or email the other relatives to let them know some tips and tactics to help foster more successful communication with the family member with hearing loss. At dinner, you can make sure to sit next to that person and let him or her know that if a punch line is missed, he or she can turn to you to get the missed information. On a more general level, you can be an advocate for those with hearing loss. For example, if you stay at a hotel, you can check in to see if they provide services and rooms equipped for people who are hard of hearing. If they do not, you can suggest this to management.
Practice good communication skills
By now, you probably know that when speaking to someone with hearing loss, it takes much more effort. No longer can you have a conversation from another room and have a deep, meaningful chat in a very loud restaurant. However, the pros of conversing with someone with hearing loss, for both of you, is that you're really focused on what you're saying and that other person. You can't multi-task because you need to face each other so the person with hearing loss can lipread if necessary. Here are some tips to show the person in your life with hearing loss that you value conversing with him or her:
- Maintain eye contact. This ensures that you are facing the person and he or she can use speechreading to understand the full meaning of your words.
- Do not exaggerate your voice or lip movements. This can distort the message; it's better to just speak clearly and at a normal rate.
- Keep your mouth uncovered to facilitate lipreading.
- Use the person's name to get his or her attention before you talk.
- Rephrase what you have said, rather than repeating, if the person did not understand. Rather than using complex sentences, use more simple ones.
- If you're changing the topic, let the person know beforehand so he or she can adjust. Context helps a lot!
- Make sure to converse in an area with good lighting and little background noise. Turn off the TV and make other adjustments.
- Stay positive and keep a sense of humor!