Health issues

How to speak to someone with hearing loss

Jun 26, 2017

If you have a friend or family member with hearing loss, you’re probably well acquainted with having to repeat yourself or raise your voice during conversations.

Hearing loss is a natural part of ageing, but at times it can be frustrating for those living with the condition and the people around them.

With nearly 300,000 Baby Boomers now caring for elderly parents, the issue has become a part of daily life for thousands of Australians.

Depending on the level of hearing loss, you may find that snippets of conversation get lost or you have to repeat yourself to be heard.

Despite the fact that everyone experiences hearing loss with age, it can be a sore point for some people who perhaps feel embarrassed they can’t keep up with conversation like they used to.

Others may be too stubborn to seek help through a hearing test or hearing device and some just need a little help along the way.

Rather than shouting or emphasising your mouth movements to get your point across to someone with hearing loss, there are ways to work around the issue and make it easier on both parties.

Catch their attention

Understanding a conversation from beginning to end can be a challenge for someone with hearing loss, especially if they’ve missed the first few words you’re saying. This issue is often amplified in group situations where multiple people are talking at once. To combat this issue, Australian Hearing suggests addressing the person by name when you begin speaking so they can prepare themselves to pay closer attention to what you’re saying.

Be aware of your mouth

Chewing with your mouth open is never polite, but doing so in front of someone with hearing loss can cause more issues than an argument over table manners. Many people with hearing loss rely on some form of lip reading to help them catch everything being said and obscuring your mouth with your hand, or distorting it by chewing while talking, makes this more difficult.

If you’re talking to someone with severe hearing loss, etiquette decries you don’t shout or over-emphasise your mouth movements to try to help them understand you. This can be embarrassing for the person and make it more difficult for them to decipher what you’re saying.

Rephrase rather than repeat

If someone doesn’t catch what you are saying the first time around, rephrase your words rather than repeating yourself. Australian Hearing suggests simplifying your wording and cutting superfluous words that could make it more difficult for someone to understand you. For example, a phrase, such as, “You’ll find the biscuits in the container above the sink” could be shortened to “The biscuits are above the sink”. 

Whittle down the waffle 

It’s important for those with hearing loss to still be able to participate in fulfilling and lengthly conversations, but this can sometimes be difficult. If you’re speaking with someone who finds it difficult to hear every part of the conversation, cut down on waffle and stick to the essentials instead. While you don’t want to skip all the juicy details in a story, simplifying your language will make it easier for them to keep up and catch every word.

Write down and repeat

Feeling lost or confused is hard enough at any point, but the feelings can be amplified when you have hearing loss. Many people feel stressed or embarrassed when they realise they have misheard instructions and may be reluctant to ask for the information again. If you’re communicating important instructions to an elderly relative or friend, ask them to repeat the key points back to you, or better yet, make their life a little easier and write them down instead.

Do you know someone who has hearing loss? How do you handle it?