One universally accepted fact about aging is that hearing becomes more difficult with age. Even with modern hearing aid technology and major strides in research involving age-related hearing loss, millions of seniors suffer from hearing impairments. However, this doesn't mean that they should have to miss out on the conversation. There are ways to communicate with seniors suffering from hearing loss so as not to cause frustration, and to make communicating easier; here are 5 of our top tips for communicating with seniors with hearing loss.
Maintain Eye Contact
Maintaining eye contact is a solid communication tip no matter who you’re speaking with, but it takes on extra importance when communicating with seniors with hearing loss. When you maintain eye contact while talking, the person you are communicating with has a clear view of your mouth, allowing them to infer what you are saying when it might be hard for them to hear you. Facial expressions and overall animation are also major factors that contribute to communication, and can be used by seniors that are hard of hearing to help them understand you.
Enunciate Your Words
The importance of enunciation goes hand-in-hand with the importance of maintaining direct eye contact. If you speak very clearly, and make sure that your words are spoken without trailing off or blending, it is much easier for people with hearing impairment to read your lips. The goal is to speak deliberately and slowly, enunciation will typically follow.
Speak Loudly, but Don’t Yell
The best way to explain voice volume when speaking to a senior that is hard of hearing is, “commanding, but not yelling.” Raise your voice to the point that it feels like you are speaking at the highest “inside voice” you can comfortably utilize. Maintaining a calm tone is imperative, it can become frustrating and hurtful when hearing impaired seniors feel like they are being yelled at, or that you are frustrated with them.
Don’t Overwhelm Them
It can be easy to forget how difficult conversations are to follow when you don’t personally have any hearing issues. Family gatherings are especially hard on seniors with hearing impairments for example, primarily due to the fact that they are extremely overwhelming and there are a lot of different noises. It becomes significantly more difficult to keep up with several voices sounding off at once when you have hearing issues. When speaking to a senior that is hard of hearing in a group environment, take turns speaking directly to them, and try to minimize background noise as much as possible.
Don’t Assume They Understand
One of the most common habits of hearing impaired seniors is pretending that they understand and are following the conversation. It can be embarrassing for them to admit they are having trouble hearing, so they often pretend they can hear without any issues. This is most commonly reflected in the “nodding and smiling” phenomena. Periodically check in with them to make sure they are keeping up with the conversation, and reassure them that it is ok if they can’t keep up.
While communicating with an individual that is hard of hearing can often come with its own set of frustrations, it doesn’t have to. Even utilizing two or three of the tips mentioned above should immediately improve the quality of communication you have with friends and loved ones that are hearing impaired. Just remember, as frustrating as it can sometimes be for you, it is infinitely more frustrating for them to struggle when communicating, so be patient and kind. And a reassuring smile never hurts!