Hearing loss impacts nearly 1 in 6 people, making it one of the most common chronic health conditions people experience today. You likely know someone living with impaired hearing. Learning about the things people with hearing loss wish you knew can help you provide valuable support. Hearing loss is exhausting.
We often take hearing for granted and don’t fully understand the complicated process and energy required for us to hear. The auditory system – the sensory system for hearing – involves the ears and brain which work together to absorb and process speech as well as sound. This involves several components including the outer, middle, and inner ear as well as specific areas of the brain that are responsible for language and speech comprehension. Someone who is experiencing hearing loss has a reduced capacity to hear and process sound. This means that their brain has to work harder to receive and analyze incoming sound information. So people are often exerting extra energy in effort in hearing which can be exhausting.
This is compounded by listening fatigue which is a common experience. This occurs when you are exposed to speech and sound for an extended period of time. So if you have ever felt tired after a long work meeting or conversation with friends, you have experienced listening fatigue. This is your brain’s way of communicating that it needs a break from the constant noise exposure. People with hearing loss can experience listening fatigue more easily and recurrently. I am not ignoring you.
In several studies about how hearing loss impacts relationships, people often report feeling ignored or unheard by their loved one with hearing loss. This can contribute to tension, frustration, and even distance; straining relationships. But it is important to understand how the person in your life experiences hearing loss.
Hearing loss produces a range of symptoms that make it challenging to hear, resulting in using more energy in trying to hear. People with hearing loss may use strategies including lip-reading to help identify individual words, paying attention to nonverbal cues which help provide context, or asking you to repeat something you’ve said. Others can perceive this as them not paying attention or being interested in the conversation when in actuality, they are employing many strategies to try and hear better and follow the conversation! So it is important to know that you are not being ignored but that it simply may take more time to process speech and to follow what you are saying. Hearing aids don’t work like glasses.
Another important piece of information that is helpful to know is that hearing aids take time to adjust to. Though they provide ample hearing support and maximize a person’s hearing capacity, it takes time to acclimate to them. This differs from glasses which you put on and vision is enhanced immediately. With hearing aids, the auditory system is being re-trained on how to hear. People will likely hear sounds they haven’t heard in quite some time. People also have to practice communicating with hearing aids across various environments so it takes time to adjust to. Avoid speaking for me.
In trying to offer support, you may want to speak for your loved one with hearing loss. If they haven’t heard what someone else has said, you may intervene on their behalf. But this can actually feel insulting or come across as rude so be sure to avoid doing this. Rather, you can ask if your family member or friend needs something to be clarified or even repeat information to them if they haven’t heard it. You can help in several ways.
There are several ways you can contribute to effective communication. Tips include:
- Face them while speaking so they have access to nonverbal cues as well as lips for lip reading.
- Rephrase rather than repeat which creates a greater opportunity for them to hear and process speech.
- Avoid multitasking so that you and the other person can be fully present and focused.
- Reduce background noise by turning down any music or audio that may be playing in the background.
Being patient and understanding how your loved one is impacted by hearing loss can help you provide the support that strengthens communication and also your relationship. Contact us today to learn more.