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How to talk to someone with a hearing impairment

April 26, 2011

In the late sixties my aunt became quite deaf. She was in her eighties. My neighbour who is 84 currently has difficulty hearing. But there are large differences between the way they respond to their hearing loss. My aunt seemed to become rather is0lated: we would be sitting round the table catching up with news and she would sit quietly looking around, smiling shyly. My neighbour is very different. She calls for her hearing aids and sits forward animatedly when we chat. I tend to keep largely to her topic of conversation: it just makes things flow better and we have a good time.

These two older people clearly have different personalities but they are also living in very different eras with (I hope) different attitudes to aging…..

Attitudes to aging and hearing loss

However, even today older people can get isolated through hearing loss and lose interest in life.  Depending on what you and others in your social circle understand (or believe) about aging, a negative view of aging can be reinforced and internalised by the aging person.  “I must be getting old….”.

Not expecting much

And by not expecting much of an older person, their family and social network confirm their negative belief. The age stereotype can slowly infiltrate and in the case of hearing loss isolation and decline follows. People, sadly, are confirmed in their negative belief about themselves.

One in six Australians is affected by hearing loss

According to my latest“News for Seniors”, hearing loss affects one in six Australians. That is astonishing! They say “Hearing well is the key to maintaining healthy relationships and staying connected with family and friends”.

The article offers some tips for talking to a person with hearing loss to ensure effective communication.

  • keep face to face  (provide as many facial cues as possible)
  • avoid shouting, talk normally but perhaps more slowly,
  • rephrase if you need to,
  • don’t compete with background noise,
  • and don’t show irritation or embarrassment: there is nothing more likely to induce “dropping out” or giving up, than a display of frustration or annoyance.
  • keep them involved by considering their needs e.g. sitting nearer, giving cues, clarifying important information,

Ask them what they do to adapt to the hearing loss themselves so that they can still get lots out of life. It is really not much different from a broken leg ….. you need to find ways around the problem. That is what “health” means as you age…..adaptation!

Expect them to always help themselves.

There are many ways to adapt to hearing loss. The Posit Science Brain Fitness Program is one possible way to help yourself. You are provided with an excellent set of headphones and you practice discriminating sounds and language in a game format on your computer. It helps (at least) to hang on to the level of hearing you already possess and perhaps more. But it may not be for everyone. As Michael Merzenich says “Old people like an easy life”  and to complete the program takes some commitment. You can see my results on the Posit Science programs earlier on this blog.

Helen Keller

I was watching the movie on Helen Keller (1880-19680) the other night. She became deafblind early in life following an illness but lived an amazing life due to the commitment of her tutor and the demands that were made on her to partake in life.

The story of how Keller’s teacher broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker. She was an author, political activist and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a  BA degree. What a triumph! She lived to be 87 years old.

 Contacts in Australia

For those in Australia with hearing issues contact Australian Hearing on 131797 or visit www.hearing.com.au.

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