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When hearing aids aren’t enough

Communication strategies for those with hearing loss

June 01, 2015

Hearing aids may be the first step toward improved hearing, however, there is more to communicating than just hearing sounds. According to Duke audiologist Holly VanHorn, “Our focus is helping people improve their hearing as well as their ability to communicate. There are many communication strategies that can help listeners be more successful communicating in difficult listening situations.”

One of those difficult listening situations is being able to hear in the presence of background noise – such as in a restaurant. That’s a major complaint, said audiologist Holly VanHorn, AuD, CCC-A. She offers these suggestions to improve the situation:

  • Sit with your back to the noise. This will help you focus fully on the conversation in front of you.
  • Make reservations for a quiet spot.   For example, ask to be seated away from the kitchen, restrooms and exits.   You can be more engaged when surrounded by less traffic and less auditory/visual distractions.  Booth seating is also a good option.
  • Let your server know you have hearing loss.

If you have trouble during conversations, try these strategies, VanHorn suggested.

  • Verify the topic being discussed at the start of a new conversation.
  • Repeat important information back to the speaker to be sure it was heard correctly: “I’ll see you on Tuesday at 5:00 for dinner.” 
  • Ask the speaker to rephrase what is being said instead of repeating it.
  • Learn to read lips. Watching the speaker’s lips move can provide vital information about what is being said. For example, it is easy to see the speaker’s mouth form /th/ or /sh/ rather than relying on only hearing these high frequency sounds, which can be difficult for people with hearing loss to hear. 
  • Watch for visual cues. In addition to lip reading, facial expressions, body language and gestures can also make make speech easier to understand. 

Finally, have realistic expectations when situations out of your control make your ability to hear more difficult. “Knowing that it may not only be the hearing loss that is causing difficulties can be reassuring,” said VanHorn For example, you may find out others are having difficulty hearing in a particular situation. Poor lighting, the room’s acoustics, distance, and other distractions may all be to blame.

Learn more about hearing loss options at Duke

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