Making Family Gatherings Easier for Seniors Who Can’t Hear
Family gatherings are a wonderful opportunity to come together with the people you love, however, for someone with hearing loss, large gatherings can be overwhelming. One-third of people over the age of 70 have a form of hearing loss, and some members of your family may not be open to sharing their struggle.
Communication for someone with a hearing impairment can be challenging, but you can make a few simple adjustments to ensure the family gathering is an inclusive and pleasant experience for everyone.
Position Yourself to Be Heard and Seen
It is important that you are in the best position to be heard, as well as seen, by a person with hearing loss. Face the person directly so that your face, especially your mouth, is in plain sight. Do not obstruct your mouth with your hands, or eat or drink, while trying to communicate.
If the person with hearing loss has a favorable ear, be sure to sit on that side of them. When initiating conversation, be sure you have their attention so that you are both focused on the conversation and no words are lost or misunderstood. It is difficult for anyone to jump into a conversation or respond to questions when they have not heard what was spoken or asked of them.
Consider the lighting or other distractions as well, and avoid interferences from obscuring the vision of the person with hearing loss.
Speak in a clear, concise manner without shouting and overemphasizing. It is a common mistake for people to speak excessively slowly or loudly to a person with hearing loss, which can lead to unnecessary hurt feelings and embarrassment. In fact, exaggerated speech may even make it more difficult for the person to hear what you are saying, as words can sound distorted.
If the person is having trouble understanding what you are saying, try rephrasing your words rather than repeating them. Sometimes saying something in a different way can be less complicated and make it easier for the him or her to understand you.
Avid A Place for Mom reader, Wayne W., has worn hearing aids for 33 years and suggests that rather than rephrasing your words, you continue to repeat your message. As someone with hearing difficulty, he explains that he uses a combination of listening, speech-reading and guessing to understand what is being communicated to him. If the person repeats what they are saying, he can confirm some guesses and correct others; however, if the person rephrases, he must begin guessing all over again.
Wayne suggests that after several attempts at repeating, rephrasing is a great idea. Another communication technique that is helpful for him is for the speaker to say “new topic” before introducing a new line of conversation. Knowing the topic change helps him with his speech-reading and guessing.
It’s important to understand the fact that we don’t just communicate with our words, we also use facial expressions and gestures, so be sure to use these visual cues when speaking with someone with hearing loss.
Reduce Background Noise
Background noise can be very distracting as well. The noise of the television, radio or multiple conversations taking place around you can obscure the words you are saying. Turn off background noise and relocate to a quieter area to have the best possible conversation.
In addition to hearing loss, people with hearing impairments can also be sensitive to loud noises. Be mindful of this when considering background noise.
Encourage Seniors to Wear Their Devices
Seniors have lots of legitimate reasons for not wearing their hearing aids or other hearing devices. Often, the cause comes down to simple discomfort. Help ensure that the senior is wearing the hearing aid properly, the volume level is adequate and that it fits properly. If they complain about any of these issues you should get them in touch with their doctor or audiologist so that modifications can be made, or their hearing can be checked to identify any additional loss or problems.
Introduce the Concept of Perceptive Listening
What is perceptive listening? It’s using perception, context, visual cues and pieces of the conversation the person has heard to figure out what has been said. Encouraging the senior in your life to use perceptive listening (which is a skill that, like any other, should be practiced), will help them to regain some independence when it comes to communicating with family, as well as with people outside the home.
Show Patience and Understanding
Most importantly, when communicating with someone who is experiencing hearing loss, be patient and understanding. Hearing loss can have a profound effect on a person’s life and can cause frustration, social withdrawal and depression. It is important to include people with hearing loss in conversation, and make your best effort to accommodate their needs. Doing this will ensure that family gatherings are a fun-filled experience for everyone!
How can you include loved ones with hearing loss in family gatherings? Share your tips and personal experiences with us in the comments below.
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