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CONNECT TO | Health & Wellness
July 2010

Hearing Loss Affects Both Communication and Quality of Life
Coping Strategies, Hearing Aids Can Help

The likelihood of losing your hearing increases as you get older. Up to one in three people older than 65 has some kind of hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. While it would be easy to dismiss or deny because of embarrassment, hearing loss can lead to avoiding social situations, which can lead to isolation and depression. Your hearing is an important part of your overall well-being. It has been said that when someone in the family has a hearing loss, the entire family has a hearing problem.


Although 95 percent of Americans with a hearing loss can be successfully treated with hearing aids, only 22 percent (or 6.35 million individuals) currently use them. Many people think a hearing aid will make them look older or change how people interact with them. Another big obstacle is the expense. Digital hearing aids can range from $1,300 to $3,000 each, according to the Mayo Clinic. A set can cost more than $6,000. Medicare does not pay for hearing aids.

Unfortunately, hearing aids are not a cure-all. People who use hearing aids can be troubled by background noise and feedback. Some hearing aids pick up and amplify noises, such as other conversations, background music or general clatter, which can make following a conversation in a noisy environment problematic. With fine tuning, this can be minimized, but some people find it distracting enough to stop using an aid.

Communication is a two-way street, and both the individual with the hearing loss, and the person he is speaking with, can play a role in reducing the problems that may arise during a conversation. Although in certain listening situations it may be impossible to carry on a conversation, there are strategies that can help ease some of the difficulties experienced by people with hearing loss. The Better Hearing Institute recommends:

  • Don't try to hide your hearing loss. By acknowledging it, people will be more likely to look directly at you when talking and speak more clearly.
  • Pay extra attention to the person speaking. Watch the speaker's mouth instead of looking down. Try to concentrate on the topic of conversation, even if you are missing a few words or phrases. When you are in an audience, find a seat close to, and with a good view of, the speaker.
  • Anticipate difficult listening situations and plan ahead. Be as prepared as you can to minimize listening difficulties. For example, if you're dining out with friends, suggest going at a time that is not likely to be busy, recommend a restaurant that you know is relatively quiet and familiarize yourself with the restaurant's menu prior to going.
  • Use clarification statements. Avoid saying "Huh?" or "What did you say?" when you have heard at least part of what the speaker was saying. Instead, try saying something like "I know you are talking about the new house you are building, but I didn't catch where you said the house is located." This way, the talker does not have to repeat everything that was said.
  • Make specific requests. "Speak a little bit louder, please," "Please slow down a bit" and "Please face toward me when you speak" are more effective than "Say again?" or "I didn't hear you."
  • Verify what you think you heard. If you have the slightest doubt that you understood a message correctly, confirm the details with the talker. It could save you some embarrassment or complications later.
  • Accentuate the positive. Use positive words when you are having trouble understanding someone, such as "Could you please speak a bit louder?" instead of "You're going to have speak louder if you want me to understand you."
  • Watch the speaker's face. Although less than 50 percent of the English language is visible on the lips, you can still get a great deal of help by picking up visual cues on the speaker's face.
  • Sometimes, it's okay to interrupt. Let the person you are speaking with know as soon as possible you are having trouble understanding him.
  • Be patient. Don't blame yourself or others for your difficulties. Some days will be more difficult than others, but a good attitude can work wonders for getting through the tough times.

Generally, in group situations, such as lectures or church services, people with hearing loss should plan to sit close to, and with a clear view of, the speaker or near a monitor. Good lighting will help you see the speaker's facial expressions. Many people have hearing loss in one ear, so in social situations it helps to sit with your good ear toward the group.

The number one reason why people purchase their first hearing aids is they recognize their hearing has worsened. The second reason is pressure from family members who are negatively impacted by the individual's hearing loss. If, for any reason, a hearing aid will not work for you, you have other methods to continue to communicate.

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