communicating-with-the-hard-of-hearingIt’s great to visit relatives at large holiday gatherings, but do you find you often have to repeat yourself? Perhaps your grandmother can’t understand certain phrases or your aunt can’t understand you from another room. It’s not unusual to have several relatives who have difficulty hearing. When you’re trying to explain something to them, it can be exasperating  to repeat it three or four times.

Take a moment and put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how much more frustrating it must be to be hard of hearing. Hearing problems can take a lot of joy out of celebrations, particularly when they are conducted in noisy restaurants or crowded living rooms. Hearing problems affect every aspect of life, from going to movies to participating in religious services.

Your relatives aren’t alone. Hearing loss affects 1 in 5 Americans, and that number increases to 1 in 3 by the age of 65. This amounts to roughly 48 million Americans—including school children.  On average, it takes seven years before someone with a hearing loss seeks treatment for the condition.

What causes hearing loss

There are several causes of hearing lossWhile the natural aging process plays a large role, other causes include:

  • Diseases such as otosclerosis, Meniere’s Disease, autoimmune disorders, viruses or chronic ear infections
  • Injury or damage to the ear, including perforated eardrums, a foreign body in the ear or head trauma
  • Benign tumors
  • Heredity—hearing loss sometimes runs in families
  • Malformation of the ear
  • Impacted earwax
  • Head trauma
  • Certain types of medications
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noise, particularly noise above 80 decibels 

Tips for communicating with someone who has a hearing loss

1. Be sure you can be seen.
While it’s unlikely your hard of hearing friend or relative knows how to read lips, picking up on facial clues will help them understand what you’re saying. Therefore, be sure your face can be seen. Don’t cover your mouth, and don’t speak when you’re chewing gum or eating. 

2. Avoid noisy environments.
This may be a challenge, particularly during holidays when you have to compete with multiple conversations, music, and energetic children. If possible, take your hard of hearing loved one to another room or to a quieter place. If this is not possible, sit close to him or her and speak slowly and clearly.

3. First, get their attention.
Before you start communicating, be sure you’ve gotten their attention. It’s also a good idea to emphasize visual cues. 

4. Do not speak to them from another room and do not speak when standing behind them.

5. Don’t over-emphasize words.
Simply speaking louder or enunciating more doesn’t make it easier to be understood.  In fact, just the opposite

6. Ask them about the best way to communicate.
A little bit of empathy goes a long way. Speak to them about what methods work best for them. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t immediately fall into place. Keep adjusting the methods you use until you find something that works.

Remember, be patient and keep your sense of humor. After all, one day you may be the 1 in 3 Americans with a hearing loss, and you’d want others to show you the same warmth and empathy, wouldn’t you?

If you or a loved one thinks you may have a hearing loss, contact one of our ENTs. We’ll be glad to help you. In addition, our audiologists offer a wide range of services, including diagnostic hearing evaluations for all ages. If you need a hearing aid, we’ll be glad to help you select the one that is right for you and provide a customized fitting.  

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat

is the area's premiere physician-owned ENT practice with six convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. We offer six local ENT offices throughout Raleigh, Cary, Garner and Wake Forest.  For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us


Hearing Loss Association of America. “Living with a Hearing Loss.” Online. 

Hearing Loss Association of America. “Do You Think You Have a Hearing Loss?” Online.