People with a hearing loss are expert bluffers. They often politely smile hoping it looks right for the conversation. They respond based on facial expressions and body language and hope against hope they are not making a fool of themselves.
If this is you, then you need to tell people you have a hearing loss. It is not something to be ashamed of. Telling them will help the communication process. Take responsibility for your deafness and recognise that other people need to make adjustments to communicate with you. Often these adjustments are outside their experience so they are not automatic and require effort. Most people want to be helpful. Once they understand the process they begin to do it because it makes people think about their actions and this makes communication more enjoyable.
Explain you need people to speak slower and less loud; that there are some sounds you cannot hear and you need a little extra time for your brain to interpret what you do hear and add in the missing bits.
Be aware that environment plays a large part in what and how easily you hear. In a big room there may be an echo and this becomes worse if there are many people talking at once. Ask people to talk to you one-on-one rather than in a group.
Hearing people cannot take extra care to communicate with you all the time. They have a right to their own lives and methods of communication just as you do. If they are always helping you they may miss out on things that are important to them. For a while a well meaning friend may interpret making sure you hear and understand, but as conversation moves faster it is not always possible for some one person to do this.
You can learn lip reading. While you will automatically start to watch lips, learning lip reading can help you do it better and this will help communication.
If possible, wear your hearing aid. You may need to explain that a hearing aid doesn’t make a person hear normally because it cannot make up the sounds you cannot hear. All it does is magnify sounds you can hear. Sometimes this is a hindrance because a hearing aid picks up just too much background noise.
Summary of hearing loss strategies for better communication
1. Accept your hearing loss. It is the first step towards better communication
2. Discuss the best situations and ways you can hear
3. Give supportive feedback when someone helps you and emphasise what is working well
4. Remember some environments are better than others to hear in
5. Hearing people can get tired trying to communicate with you just as you get tired trying to listen
6. Keep up to date. Join a hearing loss management support group, read literature
7. Recognise the emotional impact not just on you but on those talking to you
8. Be patient, take time and keep your sense of humour
Remember isolation is not a solution. Ask people (your family) how they would like to communicate with you. Help your family to know how best to attract your attention. It is a learning process for everyone and patience is needed by all of us.
Acknowledgement: Shona Fennell - presentation for DIRC Better Hearing Australia Oct-08