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Understanding what hearing loss is like can be tough. It is an invisible condition that is often misunderstood and stigmatized even though it shapes the daily life of the person experiencing it. Hearing loss reduces the capacity to hear and process sound which produces a range of symptoms that impacts communication. Understanding how hearing loss affects your loved one is an important part of providing valuable support. Here are a few things that people with hearing loss wish you knew.
- Hearing loss is exhausting. Hearing takes a lot of work. If you don’t experience challenges with hearing, you likely are not aware of how much energy it takes to hear. The ears and brain work together to absorb and process speech and sound which requires a complex process. It often takes more effort for someone with hearing loss to hear because their capacity to perform hearing-related functions has been impaired. So they often use a variety of strategies to participate in and navigate a conversation. This could include lip-reading which helps identify individual words, paying attention to nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language, and asking you to make adjustments so they can hear more clearly. This additional work can be taxing, leading to fatigue. Engaging in conversations can feel tiresome because so much energy is being expended in trying to process and understand sound.
- I am not ignoring you. Keeping in mind that hearing loss can be exhausting, it is also important to know that your loved one with hearing loss is not ignoring you. In research conducted on how hearing loss impacts relationships, people often report feeling ignored or unheard. This can lead to tension, frustration, and distance which strains relationships. At the root of this is simply not knowing how hearing loss impacts your loved one. It may feel like they are not paying attention during a conversation when they are in fact, overextending themselves in trying to hear. This can be even more challenging in environments with background noise or in conversations with multiple people. They are likely trying their best to follow what is being said which requires more work for people with hearing loss. It is important to not internalize this as something you are doing wrong and instead, try to understand how hearing loss impacts communication.
- Hearing aids do not work like glasses. Hearing aids are the most common treatment for hearing loss. These hearing instruments are equipped with innovative technology that absorbs, amplifies and processes sound. This provides significant support, alleviating symptoms and maximizing hearing capacity. Though hearing aids profoundly help with hearing, they take time to adjust to. They differ from glasses which when you put them on, vision is instantly enhanced. There is an adjustment period with hearing aids because the auditory system has to retrain itself to this new way of hearing. Also, with hearing aids, people will likely hear sounds they haven’t heard in quite some time. It takes the brain time to readjust to these new soundscapes. So it is important to have reasonable expectations and to understand that it will take time (and practice) to become fully comfortable with wearing hearing aids 24/7.
- You can help. There are numerous ways you can support your loved one with hearing loss. There are several strategies you can practice to maximize their hearing capacity, making conversations more accessible. This includes:
- Grabbing their attention before you start speaking. You can do this by saying their name.
- Facing them provides access to nonverbal cues.
- Rephrasing rather than repeating when they didn’t catch something you said.
- Check in throughout the conversation and ask if you can clarify anything.
- Avoid multitasking which can be distracting from the conversation.
- Reduce any background noise if possible.
Be sure to also ask if there are additional strategies you can use to make conversations easier.
- Your support is important. Being an advocate for your loved one’s hearing needs is important. Offering support by making adjustments, sharing communication strategies, and asking about their needs is invaluable. Navigating hearing loss can be tough but having the support and understanding of the people around you can make such a significant difference.