Research shows that age-related hearing loss is associated with social isolation — and even cognitive issues. A Mass. Eye and Ear speech-language pathologist offers 5 communication strategies for families and friends to stay connected.
Communication plays an important role in any relationship.
With age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) affecting approximately one-third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 — and nearly half of those older than 75, many families and friends struggle to stay connected after a hearing loss diagnosis.
According to Cheryl Bakey, MS, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist in the Audiology Department at Mass. Eye and Ear, the impact of hearing loss as we age can be detrimental to one’s health.
“People on the whole are very social beings,” she said. “People are at risk for becoming more isolated, and there is some evidence supporting a link between hearing loss and dementia.”
Bakey offered the following tips for improving communication with family and friends with hearing loss.
Remember that communication is a two-way street
Improving communication requires collaboration. Rather than only relying on the person with hearing loss to go through extra effort, others can also make changes to improve communication and understanding.
“In the beginning, it might be the person with hearing loss educating others on what can be done to help them understand,” said Bakey. “But what makes a communicative exchange most successful is if the communication partner takes some of the responsibility.”
Speak face to face
When speaking with someone who has hearing loss, get his or her attention first before you begin talking. Make sure to face the person, allowing them to use visual cues, including facial cues, contextual cues and body language, while listening.
Another strategy for taking advantage of visual cues: As opposed to a phone call, try using FaceTime or Skype to communicate.
Create a better listening environment
Background noise and distance from the speaker can make it more difficult for a person with hearing loss to understand you.
“When thinking about the environment, you want to think about ‘what can I do to try to improve the speech signal?’” said Bakey.
Reducing background noise (TV, radio, music) is a good place to start. At a family party, consider talking in a quieter or less crowded room. Choose restaurants that aren’t too noisy, and pick a booth along a wall. Avoid speaking to one another from different rooms.
Give yourself time to practice new habits
Changing communication habits is difficult and requires practice. Bakey suggests practicing these strategies during set times a couple times a day. “I often share with people that when you’re starting to use these strategies, realize that both sides are going to forget to do things because changing habits is hard,” said Bakey.
Ask your hearing health care professional for additional support
Some audiologists and speech pathologists offer auditory rehabilitation sessions, helping patients work on communication strategies. “At Mass. Eye and Ear, a number of our audiologists are offering this service,” said Bakey.
About our expert
Cheryl Bakey, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in working with children and adults who have hearing loss. She is a strong supporter of inclusion and collaboration with other caregivers, such as parents, spouses, family members and friends. She sees patients in Audiology at Mass. Eye and Ear’s main campus and Stoneham locations.