If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone with hearing loss, you may have instinctively thought to speak louder when it appeared you weren’t being heard. It’s a natural response – but, unfortunately, it’s one that doesn’t actually help as much as you’d think.
While speaking up when communicating with the hard of hearing is of course one way to make yourself better understood – it’s only effective to a point. People are born with widely differing natural volumes, and people with normally quiet voices may, indeed, need to “raise the volumes” of their voices when speaking to someone with hearing problems. But speaking so loudly that you are yelling or straining can actually cause more communication problems than it solves.
Having a hearing loss is usually not the same as having quiet hearing. Most people, especially those age 50 and older, have a loss specifically within their upper frequencies. This means that crisp sounds, like the consonants “t” and “s” are lost to them, while low or open sounds like vowels and the consonants “b” and “m” remain. When you raise your voice, you’re raising the volume of all the sounds – potentially making parts of what you say distractingly loud, harsh, or distorted.
Here’s a better approach.
Communicating with people with hearing loss comes with its unique challenges – and rewards. Use these strategies to help you better understand each other:
- Get attention. Before jumping into a comment about a topic with the hard of hearing, visually engage with the person first. Say the person’s name. Make it known you want to have a conversation and establish the topic right at the beginning.
- Be visible. Not all people with hearing loss can read lips, but many at least watch faces for cues to aid in understanding. Be sure to face the hard of hearing directly, in close proximity, and, if possible, in good lighting.
- Speak clearly. Without shouting or exaggerating, speak distinctly, yet naturally. Slow down your pace just a bit – but not so much that it interferes with your natural speaking rhythm.
- Speak with your body. Using natural gestures and body language can add meaning to words or phrases that might otherwise get lost – but be sure not to try to imitate sign language.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Hard surfaces reflect ambient noise, so conversations in a small, carpeted room, or one with lots of soft furnishings, provide a better environment than a cavernous space. Turn down or avoid sources of background noise, such as loud fans or televisions – or even windows near a busy street.
- Find the right words. Sometimes you’ll come across a specific word that simply doesn’t … come across. In this instance, if you find that repeating yourself once doesn’t do the trick, find a new way to say what you mean. A different word or expression may contain better sounds that the person you’re talking to can hear better.
If you, or someone you love, are having difficulty in conversation, or if sounds seem muffled or distorted, make an appointment with an audiologist at Kelsey-Seybold to get your hearing checked. An audiologist can perform an examination to determine whether you have a hearing loss and talk with you about ways to prevent and treat a hearing loss.
Dr. Kimberly is a Fellow of the American Academy of Audiology and a member of the American Speech, Language, and Audiology Association. Her clinical interests include adult and pediatric hearing aids. She cares for her patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Berthelsen Main Campus and Clear Lake Clinic.