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Ten rules for improving family communication

Contributed by | Thursday, May 26th, 2016

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Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on hearing loss and families. Check out the author’s first article, "Hearing loss affects the entire family."

When you're a family member coping with the hearing loss of a loved one, you may encounter frustration, the feeling of being ignored, separation from the relationship and isolation from daily family life. These are all normal reactions to the communication difficulties you are experiencing. However, family life doesn’t have to suffer if everyone can agree to follow these 10 rules.

Grandma and child bent over a sewing machine together
Don't let hearing loss keep your family
from making new memories together!

1. Don't take it personally

When communication challenges pop up, take a deep breath. Remind yourself – no one is purposely trying to be rude. If you don’t understand someone, take it in stride; you can fix it and move on, rather than letting it become cause for anger.

2. Get the listener's attention first

When you want to speak to someone, especially when they're involved in a task, gently touch them to get their attention before speaking. Alternately, saying their name and waiting for them to look at you before continuing ensures you have their attention before speaking. This gives them a chance to concentrate on listening to you and if necessary, reduce background noise by muting the TV or turning off the faucet, before you begin speaking.

3. Clearer is better than louder

Speaking clearly, enunciating each syllable, generally helps the person with hearing loss understand more than shouting.

4. Add pauses to your speech

People often think their family member with hearing loss will understand more if they slow speech down dramatically and drag out each word. This is a myth. It's much more effective to slow speech down a bit by putting a slightly longer pause between each word, rather than saying the words slowly.

5. Avoid one-word answers

For a person with hearing loss, a one-word "yes" answer can sound strikingly similar to a one-word "no" answer. This is especially true in background noise or when the listener can't see the speaker's face. Instead, practice saying things like, "Yes, I did," or "No, we weren't." Those extra syllables don't take much effort and go a long way to helping the listener understand what you said. People with hearing loss can benefit from more words to gather the meaning. Even "cannot" is easier to understand than "can't," which is easily mistaken for "can" and may cause disastrous results.

6. Get closer

In challenging hearing situations, like restaurants, parties or places with lots of background noise, position yourself so you are face-to-face with the person with whom you're conversing. Resist the temptation to call out from another room – walk to the location of the person you’re seeking and then talk at a normal level.

7. Rephrase, don't repeat

If someone indicates they don't understand what you said, avoid saying the exact same thing again. Instead, rephrase the sentence so it’s stated differently.

8. Get professional help

If communication difficulties are creating family conflict, help is available. Most hearing care practitioners are experts at helping family members learn new communication strategies and would be happy to assist. Advice coming from a neutral third-party is often easier to accept than when it comes from a loved one.

9. Wear the hearing aids

If you're the person with hearing loss and you have hearing aids, wear them consistently. It shows you're doing your part to enable communication. If you're the family member of a person who is resistant to wearing hearing aids, show appreciation when they do wear them. Buying your loved one a package of hearing aid batteries is a kind gesture to show you care about being able to communicate with them.

10. Get the facts

If you think you or your family member may be having trouble hearing clearly, you owe it to yourself and your family to find out what's going on. Only a licensed professional hearing care practitioner or physician can thoroughly test hearing and determine the best course of action for hearing loss. Don't delay getting a hearing test – every day is a new opportunity to communicate effectively with your loved ones.

Need more help?

If you wear your hearing aids and use these strategies and you're still struggling, call today to make an appointment with your hearing care professional. Hearing aids require regular maintenance and yours may be due for a check-up. They may need to be reprogrammed if your hearing has changed or checked to ensure they’re functioning properly. Your hearing care professional may also suggest re-testing your hearing or recommend assistive listening devices to help in certain difficult listening situations.

Our connection to our families is vital to our mental, physical and emotional well-being. Hearing loss can create barriers to that connection if we let it do so. If you or your family member is diagnosed with hearing loss and hearing aids are recommended, it's time to take action. Hearing aids can improve not only your hearing but also the important relationships in your life, regardless of your age. Everyone benefits when hearing loss is properly and effectively treated and good communication strategies are used. For yourself and your family, contact a hearing care professional near you today.

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