Living With Hearing Loss

Developing a Comprehensive Communication Strategy (Part 1)

– By Dr. Noël Crosby, Au.D. –

hearing lossWhile it is true that hearing aid technology has advanced dramatically in recent years, the fact remains that successful treatment for hearing loss goes way beyond the use of technology. To be specific, the person with hearing loss must 1) recognize the importance of seeking treatment; 2) adhere to the treatment proposed and 3) learn to assume a more assertive role in controlling their listening environment.

At the same time, friends and family members must 1) offer support and encourage efforts to improve communication; 2) learn to speak and communicate more clearly and effectively and 3) remove physical barriers to understanding.

Over the next few months, I will address, in detail, the steps each party must take to optimize the communication process. An overview of the communication strategies to be reviewed are listed below.

Communication Strategies for the Listener with Hearing Loss
Step #1: Understand the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
Step #2: Understand treatment options.
Step #3: Have realistic expectations
Step #4: Make an unwavering commitment to wearing hearing aids or using assistive listening devices.
Step #5: Develop listening and speech reading skills
Step #6: Be assertive. Take responsibility for speech comprehension by taking steps for controlling the listening environment and giving honest and direct feedback to the speaker.

Communication Strategies for Friends and Family
Step #1: Stop enabling the hearing impaired listener
Step #2: Support and encourage all efforts to get treatment
Step #3: Develop strategies for clear speech (voice intensity, projection, rate and clarity).
Step #4: Learn to understand and use body language
Step #5: Remove physical barriers to speech
Step #6: Learn to make the message interesting

Communication Strategy for the Listener with Hearing Loss
Step #1: Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss

In 1999, the National Council on Aging found that older adults who suffered from untreated hearing loss were more likely to report feelings of depression and anxiety than those whose hearing loss had been treated. These emotions can lead to the person affected feeling isolated and angry, causing him or her to withdraw, be less attentive and intimate. Personality changes may occur and low self-esteem result.

Conversely, additional research on more than 2,000 people with hearing loss, as well as their significant others, demonstrated that hearing aids clearly are associated with impressive improvements in the social, emotional, psychological, and physical well-being of people with hearing loss in all hearing loss. Specifically, hearing aid usage is positively related to the following quality of life issues.

  • Earning power
  • Communication in relationships
  • Intimacy and warmth in family relationships
  • Ease in communication
  • Emotional stability
  • Sense of control over life events
  • Perception of mental functioning
  • Physical health
  • Group social participation

Recognizing Signs of Hearing Loss
Before treatment can begin and communication improves, there must first be the recognition that there is a problem. Signs of hearing loss can be broken down into three types. There are social signs, emotional signs and medical signs that indicate that the listener may not be hearing as well as he should.

Social Signs

  • Answers inappropriately
  • Frequently asks the speaker to repeat
  • Has had family members and/or friends express concern about ability to hear or understand
  • Avoids social situations
  • Has difficulty understanding phone conversation
  • Has difficulty following conversations in a group

Emotional Signs

  • Feel stressed from straining to hear or understand
  • Feel annoyed at others because they can’t understand
  • Feel nervous about attending events where they will struggle to hear or understand
  • Feel embarrassed to meet new people

Medical Signs

  • Have a family history of hearing loss
  • Be taking ototoxic drugs like some antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs or anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Experience dizziness or ringing in the ears
  • Have sudden hearing loss
  • Have diabetes, heart, circulation or thyroid problems.

Communication Strategy for Friends and Family
Step #1: Don’t Be an Enabler

As a friend or family member who cares about a loved one with hearing loss, you may find yourself in situations where you talk loudly, repeat yourself or interpret what others are saying. While you may think you are helping, the truth is, these are not good communication strategies. Rather they are signs that you are an enabler.

In an article featured on the Better Hearing Institute website entitled When a Loved One Resists Help by Richard Carmen, Au.D., the author states, “Such well-intended efforts are counterproductive to the ultimate goal of having the hearing loss treated.” He goes on to suggest that you explain to your loved one that you want to help, and that you will do so by “allowing him or her to have the opportunity to realize the significance of their hearing loss. Preface what you repeat by saying each time, “Hearing Help!” or some other identifier. In a short amount of time, your loved ones will realize how often you say this. In turn, they will come to realize how often they depend on you.”

Next month: Treatment options and controlling expectations.

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