Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition in the United States.
Nearly 38.2 million people over the age of 12 are affected by diminished hearing. By the time a person reaches 65 years old, they will experience some level of age-related hearing loss.
On any given day, you are likely to interact with multiple people who deal with some form of normal to severe hearing loss. It is mostly an invisible disability and can be impossible to spot just by looking at someone.
Chances are, you already know even more people than you realize who live with hearing loss.
Interacting in social environments can present a unique set of challenges for people with hearing loss. While each individual is different, there are some shared experiences that people with hearing loss would like you to understand.
Hearing through hearing aids does not sound like hearing naturally
Hearing aid technology has made amazing advancements over the years. Most people can hear clearly and don’t experience any problems while using aids.
Hearing aids amplify all of the sounds around but cannot always distinguish between them. That means sometimes a speaking voice and ambient noise are all registered at the same levels.
Using hearing aids isn’t like sliding on a pair of prescription glasses to read. As good as hearing aids have become they still don’t sound the same as normal hearing. It takes a bit more effort to distinguish between different sounds.
The hearing takes a lot of energy
With or without hearing aids it can be difficult to make distinctions in sound. This is especially the case in noisy environments. Social settings require a lot of mental juggling for people with hearing loss.
It requires a great deal of effort to actively separate and process sounds, something that most people do without even thinking about it. Between hearing, processing, and being in the moment it can be exhausting to keep up!
For people with hearing loss, social events can be so mentally and physically draining that it’s easier to skip them together.
People with hearing loss are not dim-witted
It’s not that people with hearing loss don’t get the joke, it’s just that they didn’t hear the punchline. It requires extra work and brain power to make out and hear different sounds which means that reactions might be delayed.
People with hearing loss are not purposefully impolite
Small talk is sometimes soft talk and things get missed. Nuance in language can get lost when you can’t hear. It can be easy to miss or misunderstand small gestures. Polite pleasantries such as “excuse me” and “thank you” sometimes get lost.
This may sound like an obvious one but it never hurts to enunciate. For many people, the instinct is to speak loudly or yell. However, speaking too loudly will only muffle and distort sounds even more.
If you’re trying to talk to some with hearing loss the best thing to do would be to get their attention. Also, make sure to talk face to face because people with hearing loss may rely on your expressions and body language to understand what you mean.
It can be hard to keep up in conversations with diminished hearing. If a person with hearing loss has to ask you to repeat yourself or speak slower don’t get frustrated. Try to remember that it can be just as frustrating for them.
Don’t give up/Do repeat yourself
If someone with hearing loss asks you to repeat yourself, do it! Try paraphrasing or speaking clearer. Don’t just say “never mind” and move on. Stick with the conversation or the joke and see it through.
People with hearing loss can speak up for themselves
Maybe it seems like the polite thing to do, maybe you think you’re sparing a friend from coming off as rude or stupid, maybe you think you’re helping out by answering a question for them but you should never speak for someone with hearing loss.
Instead, try repeating your question, check in to see if they missed anything, or make sure your friend has access to any available visual tools they may need. Ask how to recognize and help in situations where you might be of service.
People with hearing loss employ multiple tools and resources to communicate including their friends!
So next time you meet a person with hearing loss, remember
- Talk face to face
- Speak clearly
- Be patient
- Let them speak for themselves