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The Best Ways to Communicate with Someone Who Doesn’t Hear Well

Just about all of us struggle to hear in some situations. The loud chatter in restaurants, the roar of traffic on a nearby highway or the hum of your dishwasher can make it hard to understand what people are saying.

For people who are hard of hearing or deaf, it’s that much more challenging to communicate. “Almost anyone with hearing loss will tell you, the hardest situations for them to hear are in places with a lot of background noise,” said Nicholas Dewyer, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Banner - University Medicine North.

However, people who can’t hear well may have trouble hearing in all kinds of situations, not just at times when there’s a lot of background noise.

How to communicate with someone who is hard of hearing

Dr. Dewyer shared a few things you can do to make communication easier when you’re talking to someone who is hard of hearing:

  • Speak clearly, not loudly. “The main thing to keep in mind when communicating with someone who has hearing loss is that they often have difficulty with clarity, not just loudness,” Dr. Dewyer said.
  • Talk at a reasonable speed. You can slow your speech a bit, but don’t take it to an unnatural, drawn-out level.
  • Communicate face to face. Be sure to look directly at the person when you’re speaking. That way, they can read your lips and interpret your body language. Make sure the lighting is bright. If you’re communicating virtually, choose video over audio whenever possible.
  • Create a quiet space. If possible, close doors or windows to block out sounds. Hold off on running dishwashers, washing machines or dryers if they are loud.
  • Seek better options. Ask for a quieter table in a restaurant or go at a less busy time. If you notice someone is struggling to hear at a party, see if you can move the conversation to a quiet corner or a smaller group.
  • Make it easy to lip-read. Don’t cover your mouth with your hand, eat or chew gum during your conversation.
  • Choose a mask that allows for lip-reading. Dr. Dewyer said that if you often have to communicate with people who are hard of hearing and you need to wear a mask, you can choose a mask with a clear plastic shield over the mouth.

If you feel someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying, you can ask them if they are having difficulty hearing and how you can make it easier for them. But be careful. “This can be tricky because many people with hearing loss may not realize the extent of their hearing loss or may not have come to terms with it,” Dr. Dewyer said.

New hearing aids are hardly noticeable

While many people don’t think twice about using glasses to correct their vision, unfortunately, hearing aids don’t have the same level of acceptance. “Many people still think there’s a stigma to using hearing aids. That keeps them from getting the help they need. Hearing aids are quite effective at helping with hearing loss, and new ones are so small and hidden that they’re practically invisible.” Depending on your relationship with the person, you can gently suggest they consider being evaluated for hearing aids.

The bottom line

When you’re talking to someone who can’t hear well, pay attention to your communication style and manage the background noise level. Those steps can make it easier for them to hear and understand you.

If you or a loved one think you may have hearing loss, talk to your primary care physician, or visit an audiologist for a hearing test and consultation. Banner Health can help you connect with a health care provider near you if you need one.

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