Our Tips On Coping With Hearing Loss

For a long time, Ross was not actually aware that he had a hearing loss as his hearing had slowly and progressively gotten worse over time. In contrast, Greg did know his hearing was going but denied it was having any significant problems for him, though his family and work colleagues struggled with it.

Diana though admitted to herself that she was losing her hearing, but could not bring herself to deal with it in a proactive way. Instead she chose to avoid dealing with it altogether because she was struggling with both relationship and financial worries.

Dr Georgina Shakes says Ross, Greg and Diana’s reactions to their hearing loss is all exceptionally common, though the best thing for each of them to do is to accept their hearing loss and begin to do something proactive about it. For if someone denies what is happening and does nothing about it, family and friends really begin to struggle too.

Hearing loss is a communication disorder, which can cause problems for people when communication breakdowns occur.

As a result, it is easy to become frustrated and angry, withdraw from the situation, bluff and tense up when communication difficulties arise, or to or dominate the conversation to avoid difficulties, but you can proactively offer up suggestions and solutions to help.

Georgina says there are three major barriers to success in coping with hearing loss:

  • incomplete or erroneous information
  • ineffective communication
  • personal barriers
  • But there are things you, your family and friends can do to help and cope.

Things to do include:

  • Firstly, visit your audiologist and have a hearing test done
  • If you need hearing aids, ensure you get good fitting ones and ones that are suited to your specific level and type of hearing loss.
  • Be fully informed and understand the effects of hearing loss- because there are misconceptions out there!
  • Be aware of factors that contribute to communication difficulties.

Some Misconceptions about Hearing Loss are:

Hearing loss is my problem

Holding this belief can make you reluctant to ask others to change their communication style to help you. Often you may feel "This is my problem, and I can't inflict it on others." The problem with this view is that by not recognising your own hearing loss, you are unintentionally inflicting it onto others, as they can’t recognise or understand your needs. This is what leads to frustration by everyone. Instead, be open and honest with people and give them the chance to adapt their style to help make things easier for both of you.  Remember, communication is a two-way process.

The hearing aid myth

This is the belief that hearing aids will restore normal hearing and will eliminate all communication problems. This is not the case. The benefits of hearing aids are situation specific. They work quite well for most wearers in some situations (noise-free, one-on-one, close to the person speaking), and less well in other situations (noisy, multiple speakers, far from the person who is speaking). You also need to realize that not everyone who has a hearing loss can achieve adequate speech recognition by wearing hearing aids alone.

The lipreading myth

This is the belief that you automatically become a good lipreader because you have a hearing loss. As a result, you assume that you have understood what is being said, when, in fact, you have either missed a lot or misunderstood.

Considering all of these pitfalls of trying to cover up your hearing loss, it is much better to be proactive and open about it:

  • Inform Others That You Have a Hearing Loss
  • Hearing loss is an invisible disability that others cannot see, so they need to be told.
  • Some people have found it helpful to hand over a ‘business card’ when meeting a new person which has some simple communications strategies outlined on it to help.

There is one available to download on the Pindrop website. Click here


Understand your specific hearing loss

By understanding the specific speech and environmental sounds that you can and cannot hear helps not only you, but your family, friends and colleagues. This level of understanding and insight often helps reduce the feelings of frustration and anger and the tendency to blame and make statements like, "You can hear me when you want to."

In addition to the specific features of hearing loss, there are a variety of other causes of communication problems, and it is also beneficial for everyone involved to know them.


Understand Breakdowns in Communication

There are a number of reasons why communication difficulties arise when you have a hearing loss, and not all of it is attributable to the hearing loss alone.

What you say when they are not able to understand what someone else is saying is critical in your ability to successfully cope with hearing loss. For example:

  • "Huh?"
  • "What?"
  • "Would you repeat that?"
  • "I'm sorry!"
  • "Excuse me?"
  • "I didn't get that."
  • "I didn't understand you."

There are not at all effective because they do not contain any information about what someone needs to do to make communication easier.

A much better response is to offer a solution:

  • "Could you please slow down?"
  • "Please face me when you speak"
  • "Please speak a little louder and clearer.”

This provides someone with something concrete to do and helps them understand.

Other factors at play include not only the person that is speaking, but the environment and the person listening.

For example, the person speaking may:

  • Not speak clearly
  • Speak too quickly
  • Speak too softly
  • Have an accent
  • Have distracting mannerisms
  • Facial hair that covers the lips

Environmental factors can make communication difficult because of:

  • Background noise
  • Lighting conditions
  • Acoustics
  • Ventilation
  • Seating arrangements

The listener might compound the issue through:

  • Their Level of hearing loss, type and onset
  • Their Ability to pay attention
  • Their Emotional status
  • They may have a distracting body sensation

Identifying the specific causes of communication problems means you are in a better position to find solutions to them.

Model the type of communication behaviour you would like to see in others. If you model the communication behaviour you would like to see in others, they will respond as you’d like them to. For example, when Leanne wanted Mike to stop talking to her from another room, she made sure she went to where Mike was when she wanted to start a conversation.  

Leanne and Mike learned that whoever needed to initiate the conversation went to where the other was.Leanne and Mike also learned to talk at a volume and rate where they could best understand each other. Although this seems simple enough, it took Leanne and Mike a bit of practice to get it just right.

Access Assistive Listening Devices

Assistive listening devices work in conjunction with or independent of hearing aids and are invaluable in breaking down communication barriers and difficulties. There are varying devices available, such as:

  • FM systems
  • Induction loops
  • Infrared and hard-wire systems

You may need plenty of hands-on experience with these devices to become comfortable using them outside of home, but once you are comfortable with them, they offer dramatic results in terms of improved communication, increased self-esteem, and reduced negative feelings surrounding communication.

Alerting devices, such as hearing dogs for the deaf, bellman systems relay phones play a crucial role in alerting you to sounds in your home and environment, such s the doorbell, phone ringing, fire alarms etc.


Access National and Regional Resources:

Visit your local Hearing Association on: http://www.hearing.org.nz/

Visit the National Foundation for the Deaf, Inc: http://www.nfd.org.nz

A final note:
Coping with hearing loss starts with accessing accurate, realistic, and complete information. It requires changing communication techniques on the part of both the person with the hearing loss and those with who they regularly interact. Learning and practicing strategies for preventing and reducing communication problems is empowering and helps decrease negative emotions, increases self-esteem, and improves relationships.