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The best way to talk about your hearing loss

Disclosing your hearing loss and suggesting an option to accommodate your needs may be the best way to first introduce your hearing loss to others, according to a new study.

Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear surveyed 337 patients with hearing loss to better understand the language they use with communication partners to disclose their disability. The study found that people with hearing loss often talk about it in three ways: basic disclosure, nondisclosure and multipurpose disclosure. 

  • basic disclosure, to describe those who disclose that they have hearing loss and perhaps also share details about their condition.
    • Example: I’m partially deaf due to an infection I had years ago.
  • nondisclosure, to describe those who do not disclose their hearing loss and/or use phrases that normal hearing people may use;
    • Example: I can’t hear you. Please speak up.
  • multipurpose disclosure, to describe those who disclose hearing loss and also suggest an accommodation strategy;
    • Example: I don’t hear as well out of my right ear. Please walk on my left side.

While individuals had different ways of talking about their hearing loss, researchers suggest the multipurpose disclosure method is the best way to avoid isolation in social situations.

“We think it can be empowering for patients to know that these strategies, and especially the multipurpose disclosure strategy, are available to them,” said senior author Konstantina M. Stankovic, M.D., Ph.D., FACS, an otologic surgeon and researcher at Mass. Eye and Ear and an associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School.

“Hearing loss is an invisible disability; however, asking people to slow down or face someone with hearing loss while speaking may improve communication.”

The researchers are using the findings to develop a resource guide to help health care providers better prepare their patients for social situations.

7 tips for talking to someone with hearing loss:

Talking about hearing loss

  1. Shorten the Gap

In loud environments with lots of background noise, like a family get-together, move closer to narrow the space between you and the person with hearing loss. Conversations across the room, or from one room to another, are difficult for everyone, and almost impossible for someone with hearing loss.

  1. Attention, Please

Get your friend or family member’s attention by using her name, or lightly tapping her shoulder. Wait until you’ve established eye contact before starting to talk.

  1. Face-to-Face

Speak clearly and maintain eye contact with the person who has hearing loss, because lip-reading and visual cues from your facial expressions help provide context and comprehension.

  1. Limit the Distractions

Televisions, vacuum cleaners, loud music, and other noise can cover what you’re saying, making it even more difficult for someone with hearing loss to distinguish your voice from the noise. Keep the conversation clear by turning off or moving away from loud distractions.

  1. No Need to Shout

Speak naturally, in your normal voice. Speaking more clearly and slowly can help those with hearing loss understand what you’re saying.

  1. Know Your Audience

Hearing and understanding require focus and can take a lot of energy — for anyone. Someone with hearing loss, however, has to work even harder to follow a conversation, particularly in a group of people. Simply understanding this will help you be a better conversational partner.

  1. Practice Patience

Be aware that when someone is first learning how to use a hearing aid, it requires a great deal of concentration. Be patient and, if necessary, take a break for a little down time; you can pick up the conversation again later.

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The HearingLikeMe editorial team includes Jill von Bueren, Kirsten Brackett and Lisa Goldstein.
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The HearingLikeMe editorial team includes Jill von Bueren, Kirsten Brackett and Lisa Goldstein.