Why Hearing Loss is a Family Affair

You’re sitting at the dinner table, but your conversation with your partner requires you to constantly repeat yourself.  “What?” “Can you speak up?” and “Would you repeat that?” are all phrases that pepper your dinner talk.

For family members of someone who has hearing loss, that scenario is all too common. Responses are often misunderstood by the individual with hearing loss, sometimes resulting in disagreements or awkward situations.

And if you and your partner are in separate rooms and one of you has hearing loss, it’s nearly impossible to get the conversation straight.  That’s because walls or other sounds from the television or a barking dog can interfere with communication. As a result, voices get louder and sometimes temper flare.

So, what are some relationship-saving tips and tricks if you live with someone with hearing loss?

  1. Be sure your partner gets their hearing checked if they are consistently having problems understanding conversations, have turned the television or radio volume up so that it’s blasting others out of the room, they constantly complain that you mumble, or they are always asking you to repeat yourself. These are all tell-tale signs of hearing loss.
  2. If your partner has hearing loss, be sure they get hearing aids that can help them hear better, especially in the types of situations where they often find themselves.  For example, needs are different for someone who lives in a quiet environment vs. someone who often dines out in busy restaurants or who is still working and needs to be able to hear work colleagues.
  3. Hearing aids can help improve communication for family members, but even the best hearing aids can’t overcome every obstacle. For example, if your partner is constantly trying to talk with you from another room, they still may not be able to hear your responses.
  4. If your partner has hearing aids, be sure they wear them.  Hearing aids don’t help if they’re sitting in the nightstand drawer or on top of the bathroom vanity.  The individual has to have them in, programmed accurately and turned on in order for them to do their job.

If you’re the family member with good hearing, there are some additional strategies that can help make communication less stressful for you and your partner.

  1. First, don’t try to carry on conversations when you are in different rooms. It doesn’t usually work for people whose hearing is good, and it definitely doesn’t work for individuals with hearing loss. Instead, take the time to go the same room and talk while facing your partner.  This not only brings you and your partner closer to the source of the sound, but you also will be able to see one another’s facial expressions and lip movements. Studies have shown that being able to see the person you’re talking with greatly improves hearing and comprehension.
  2. Second, it’s very helpful to have the attention of the listener and to share the topic being discussed. When they know the topic, it’s easier for your loved one with hearing loss to know what to listen for, focus their attention and follow the conversation better.
  3. Go to your partner’s appointments when they see their audiologist. This can be beneficial because it helps the audiologist understand the challenges the patient may have. For example, if you voice is very soft, and your partner often complains they can’t hear you, the audiologist may be able to accommodate for that by adjusting their hearing aids. Plus, while you are both in the room, your partner can try their hearing aids out to see if a change works. It’s also an opportunity for family members to understand the type and degree of hearing loss. Realistic expectations and good communication strategies for communicating with family members can also be gleaned from the audiologist.
  4. Don’t be afraid to use technology. If your partner seems to need even more help, it’s available. Three innovative accessories that can improve communication include:
    – Remote mic (or spouse mic) that streams the conversation partner’s voice directly to the individual’s hearing aids.
    – Television listening device that streams program sound directly to the individual’s hearing aids.
       – Device that streams calls and music directly to the individual’s hearing aids.

Each of these can improve listening enjoyment and hearing aid performance significantly.

Talk with a doctoral-level audiologist about the hearing challenges in your family. Audiologists have advanced education and expertise in teaching people strategies to effectively use their hearing aids and improve communication.

Schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist.