Multi-generational gatherings are a big part of many families’ traditions. In large families (or when many small children are present), these get-togethers can be quite noisy, and older relatives may have difficulty hearing and communicating.

If your family plans involve grandparents or relatives with hearing loss, the most important thing to remember is: don’t yell. Yelling can be painfully loud for a person who wears hearing instruments. It’s also disrespectful. Grandma deserves better.

The Complexity of Hearing Loss

People may assume that there are varying degrees of “deafness” – that people with hearing loss simply hear their world at lower volume levels. It’s not that simple.

To a person who has difficulty hearing high frequencies, speech sounds muffled, and some consonants may be undetectable. Hearing loss can also affect one’s ability to detect pitch, which means words tend to come across as one continuous sound. Speech has a rolling cadence, with highs and lows; for people with hearing loss, those low parts can be unintelligible.

When speaking to people who have hearing loss, if they don’t understand you, try rephrasing what you said – choosing new words (and new sounds and letters) may help them hear you. Be patient – you may need to rephrase your words a few times.

The Importance of Face-to-Face Communication

Think back to a time when you received a terse email from someone you knew, and you wondered if they were irritated with you. Emails cannot convey tone, so they are often the source of miscommunication. Now, imagine how hearing loss might affect one’s ability to detect tone.

Your mannerisms, facial expressions, and lip movements help people fill in the gaps – they may not hear everything you say, but they will be better able to understand your tone and your overall message.

Remember these tips for talking to someone who has hearing loss:

  • Get their attention – Wave, or move closer and make eye contact before you initiate a conversation.
  • Speak slowly and clearly – Don’t overenunciate, but do speak clearly.
  • Don’t talk with your mouth full – You may have heard this bit of wisdom from Grandma. It’s good advice for family mealtime, and it also helps people with hearing loss understand you.