Hearing loss is a widespread disability for older Australians. 73 percent of Australians aged over 70 have a mild to severe hearing loss and this percentage rises with age.
Hearing Awareness Week, from March 3, aims to draw awareness to the four million Australians who are hearing impaired or deaf. This year, the focus is on the importance of preparing and preventing hearing loss.
For the elderly, this includes raising awareness about the importance of the earlier use of hearing aids.
For the rest of us, the week is an ideal opportunity to better understand hearing loss and learn how we can better communicate with those who are affected.
Here are five communication tips for effective communication with people with hearing loss:
1. Sit face to face
Always face the person you are speaking to as looking at someone’s face and lip movements can make it much easier to understand what they are saying. The large majority of our communication ability also comes from body language so this simple strategy can be a powerful one.
2. Reduce the noise
If you are having an important conversation at home, reduce competing noise by moving to a quieter room, closing a window or turning off the television/radio. When eating out, consider going to a café or restaurant that either has less noise or booking a table in advance that is away from background noise.
3. Clear communication
If you are speaking to a person with hearing loss, speak in a slow, clear voice that is slightly raised in volume – but not yelling.
For those with hearing loss, communicating up front that you’re having some difficulty hearing can help the conversation run smoothly. Saying something like ‘I’m having a bit of difficulty hearing today (or I’m feeling a little tired); Would you mind please speaking a little slower/ louder so I can hear you better?’ can ease frustration or embarrassment from both parties. People are generally very good at modifying their speech once you ask them to do this.
4. Good lighting and closeness to the speaker
Good lighting (not too bright or dull) is one thing that people often neglect but it is actually very important so that we can see each other’s faces clearly when trying to have a conversation. Ideally, you always want to be within 1-2 metres (or ideally closer if possible) of the speaker.
5. Wear your hearing devices
It’s important that those with hearing loss remember to wear their hearing devices, particularly in social situations. Hearing devices can also be adjusted to work better in noise and newer technological advancements mean that hearing aids continue to get better in their ability to process speech in noise. If you haven’t used your hearing aids for a while, or find they aren’t working well for you in certain situations, an audiologist can adjust them to better suit your needs.