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Hearing loss is a complex and diverse condition that affects everyone differently. Everything from when or how someone develops hearing loss to how they treat it and how it impacts their everyday lives changes based on who you ask.
With this in mind, there are a number of things people with hearing loss wish they knew to better understand the challenges and communicate effectively.
Hearing loss is not one size fits all.
For some, it comes later in life, others are born with it, and still, others can develop hearing loss somewhere in the middle. It can be sudden due to disease or trauma or gradual over time.
Similarly, how people hear varies as well. For example, with age-related hearing loss, it is often the higher pitches that are difficult to understand.
While much associate hearing loss with age, anyone of any age can have hearing loss. Ultimately, how hearing loss affects everyone is different.
Not everyone wears hearing aids.
There are two primary corrective devices for hearing loss. However due to cost, availability, and/or difficulty adjusting, some decide not to use corrective devices at all. Instead, choosing to rely on other means of communication.
Hearing aids, while the most common correction for hearing loss, can be a challenge for some to adjust to, particularly for people who develop hearing loss gradually with age. There are many brands and types of hearing aids to choose from that provide varying levels of correction.
Cochlear implants are a type of treatment for severe or profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants require surgery and have a cost that often prohibits access for everyone. Cochlear implants work to receive and process sound however they do not reproduce exactly what a person with normal hearing would hear and therefore are not often used for age-related hearing loss.
Hearing is hard work.
While it is commonly assumed that hearing loss sounds similar to turning down the volume on the TV, typically it is more complicated than that. Someone with hearing loss might hear different pitches at different levels, requiring them to decipher and piece together sounds to comprehend them.
It requires a high level of concentration and can be quite exhausting. If someone with hearing loss is already tired, working to hear and comprehend someone who is talking to them can be made even more difficult.
Hearing loss doesn’t make someone slow or dumb.
If someone with hearing loss is struggling to understand what another person is saying, it might have nothing to do with what is being said, rather that they are struggling to fully hear it all. Speaking clearly and not yelling helps those with hearing loss understand speech better.
Some sounds are uncomfortable.
Hearing through hearing aids means using a microphone. Imagine being at a concert and the sound of wind against the microphone. It is an uncomfortable sound. Similarly, driving with the windows down or sitting near a fan are uncomfortable sounds for those using hearing aids.
Hearing loss can be isolating.
Humans are social beings. Even when you are surrounded by family or friends, if you can’t communicate with them then it can lead to feeling isolated or depressed. People with hearing loss want to be included, just like everyone else. Helen Keller famously said, “Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people.”
What are some ways to better communicate with people with hearing loss?
- Do not shout. As mentioned above, hearing loss is not simply the softening of sound. Shouting changes the natural enunciation of words and makes it even more difficult for someone who is struggling to hear you.
Similarly, over-enunciation changes the cadence of speech, making it harder to understand. Instead, speak clearly and at an appropriate volume for the environment.
- Face the person you are speaking to. Communication happens with more than just words. Making sure to face the person you are speaking to ensures that they can use all sorts of communication cues such as body language, not simply your words.
- Ask. Generally, people with hearing loss know what works for them, so ask them. They will tell you if you are struggling to understand what you are saying and what you can do to help.