9 PRACTICAL COMMUNICATION TIPS It is common knowledge that as we age, we begin to experience the cumulative effects of all we have been exposed to; environmental factors such as chemicals, noise, medication, infection, stress, and traumatic physical events. Within the realm of hearing, it is relatively common to see a decline in high frequency hearing sensitivity, a condition we call presbycusis. Presbycusis generally presents itself with complaints of difficulty hearing in the presence of background noise, having to ask people to repeat themselves, having to increase the volume on the television or radio, and sometimes ringing in the ears. On top of a measurable hearing loss, older individuals begin to experience a decline in the ability to process speech information with the same speed and accuracy. The quicker the rate of speech the more challenging due to the overlap of speech sounds. Deficiencies in the auditory system are the direct result of an impaired sound intake system (in other words, the sensory hair cells of the cochlea). The very first step in addressing a presbycusic hearing loss is to treat with hearing instruments. This will allow speech information to be detected clearly, at a normal loudness level. This step in treatment is important to pursue earlier rather than later, as hearing aids require patience and a certain period of acclimatization. Older adults sometimes have trouble adjusting to such a physical, and psychological change. Even with amplification treatment, however, hearing in everyday listening environments can present some degree of challenge. This is especially true when the talker is at a distance, or where there is background music or noise. Following are some practical tips for communicating with an individual with hearing loss.
- Face the individual with whom you are talking.
- Make sure you have the listener’s attention before speaking. You might tap them on the shoulder or wave if they are not aware that you are addressing them.
- Do not shout. Speak slowly, and clearly. Do not over- articulate.
- Avoid chewing gum or food while speaking. Do not obscure your mouth in any way.
- Sit within three to six feet of the listener.
- Ensure that there is sufficient lighting in the room, so that your face is visible. This will make speech reading possible.
- Find a quieter environment within which to communicate, preferably where there is carpeting.
- Watch the listener’s face for clues on whether or not they are able to understand what you are saying. If needed, you might try to rephrase what you have said, rather than repeating the exact same way.
- Ask the listener what you can do to help them hear better so they are able to better participate in the conversation.
This article is submitted by Judy Keith, MSc, Aud(C), Reg. CASLPO. Judy is Owner and Operator of Chemong Audiology and Hearing Centre in Bridgenorth, ON and Hearing Unlimited in Peterborough ON. She has been providing audiology services in the Peterborough area for more than twenty years.