Although statistics show that hearing loss affects nearly 48 million people across the US, those numbers do not account for the secondary effects. Dealing with hearing loss in the family is another side to the story that deserves prioritization. When one person has a hearing impairment, it may cause difficulties for people who that individual interacts with as well.
For those who have friends or family with hearing loss, the impact on hearing loss on family members may be apparent, but it is not to all.
Learning how to help families with speech and hearing loss is vital in an age where hearing loss affects millions of people all over the world.
Effect of Hearing Loss on Family
Often, hearing loss causes frustration in everyday life for all parties involved. People may find it a burden to repeat statements multiple times or to speak slowly and clearly. Compared to communicating with others at work or in social settings, communicating at home is much more casual.
At home, family members feel comfortable with each other, which may lead to relaxed conversations or individuals trying to talk from different parts of the house. Additionally, informal communication at home may incorporate individuals speaking with their backs turned, rather than facing someone to speak.
These scenarios can cause understanding difficult even for individuals with unimpaired hearing. Those with hearing loss are then set at a further disadvantage when trying to understand someone speaking to them from upstairs. Furthermore, family members are likely to get frustrated easier with one another than with a work associate or a friend.
Family members who do not cater to one’s hearing needs may discourage the individual with hearing loss, leading to disagreements and unrest. That individual may feel left out, saddened, or frustrated.
At the same time, a member of the family, typically younger, who does not understand the difficulties imposed on someone with hearing loss, may get frustrated when trying to communicate, as they are not understood.
All in all, hearing loss poses many challenges for those directly and indirectly affected. When one more than one member of the family is affected, communication can prove even more cumbersome and challenging.
Familial Hearing Loss
Many people believe hearing loss only affects older populations. However, every year, thousands of babies are born with some degree of hearing loss. According to the CDC, between 50% and 60% of the cases result from genetic factors.
Does hearing loss run in families?
Yes, it can run in families. When more than one family member has hearing loss, professionals call the phenomena familial hearing loss. Some forms of hearing loss, like otosclerosis, may be hereditary—they may be genetic disorders that are passed down to the next generation.
Genetics plays a large part in the hearing of people, just like every other facet of human physiology. Many genes in the body play a role in hearing and ear development. The CDC has also reported that nearly 40% of newborns with genetic hearing loss have a mutation in the gene that assists the function of the cochlea—a vital component to hearing.
For families that have more than one member affected by hearing loss, support, and action are necessary for communication and healthy relationships. Family members may need to practice extra patience, care, and effort to ensure those with hearing loss feel included and confident. Thus, speech and hearing loss support for families should be taught when there is a family history of hearing loss.
Hearing Loss Communication Strategies for Family and Friends
1. Get One’s Attention Before Attempting to Communicate
If you were to attempt speaking to someone with hearing loss without their awareness, it’s likely they would miss some or most of what you said. Therefore, before trying to communicate with a friend or family with a hearing impairment, getting their attention can improve overall communication. It allows all parties involved to be committed to the conversation, without any distractions, and it removes the potential for frustration.
2. Maintain Eye Contact Throughout Conversations
For someone with hearing loss, it may be difficult to know if someone is talking to you if they are looking at something else in the room. To improve communication, maintain eye contact, or at least not having a roaming gaze, can show the person you’re committed to talking to them alone. Holding eye contact with the listener may also allow them to read your lips, further improving their ability to understand you.
3. Speak Slowly and at a Normal Volume
Whenever you’re in a conversation or beginning a conversation, there is no need to exaggerate the sound of your voice. In fact, speaking abnormally loud may make the individual with hearing loss feel bad about themselves. Instead, speak a bit slower, as clearly as possible, and at a normal volume.
This allows the individual to hear clearly, without struggling. While talking with someone with a hearing impairment, speaking quickly and slurring words can make it very difficult to listen which would cause frustration.
4. Be Aware of Your Environment
When trying to communicate with someone with hearing loss, the setting is crucial to proper understanding. If you’re outside, on a busy street, chances are the individual will not be able to hear from you. Wait to speak to the individual until the environment is ripe for communication Too much environmental noise will only cause frustration. Furthermore, you can control an indoor setting to be better for communicating. Turn off any TV’s, radios, music, etc..
5. Be Prepared to Rephrase or Repeat What They Didn’t Hear
Communicating with someone with hearing loss often requires words, phrases, or full ideas to be repeated. Do not get frustrated if someone can’t understand you. Rather, be mindful of their struggle and respond with patience. Repeat, or better yet, rephrase what you said. By rephrasing what you had said, they can better understand what you originally wanted to express.
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