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Offered by: John Wilson, B.S., BC-HIS – Blue Ribbon Hearing & Tinnitus Center

The other day I was talking with my daughter and used the word “laurel.” My daughter then asked what a laurel was. My wife who was rinsing dishes in the other room overheard part of the conversation and asked who I was calling a moron. I had to ask her if she was serious and she said yes. She thought she heard me say “moron” when I said “laurel.”

Scenes like this go on regularly in households with individuals with hearing loss. Sometimes these situations are humorous while other times they cause serious conflict. Misunderstandings are frequent with individuals who have untreated hearing loss.

Treating hearing loss can make it easier to hear and understand. However, hearing aids do not make an individual’s natural hearing perfect. Hearing aids work with whatever natural hearing an individual has, taking sounds that would be too soft to hear and amplifying them to an audible level. The effectiveness of devices can be affected by numerous things including the type and severity of hearing loss and an individual’s ability to discriminate different speech sounds. Speech discrimination diminishes the longer an individual goes without treating a hearing loss.

Effective communication requires cooperation between the speaker and the hearer. A few important things to remember when talking to an individual with hearing loss are to get the person’s attention, face the individual, and speak more slowly and clearly so words do not run together. When there is a misunderstanding, rephrasing is often more effective than repeating. Also, an individual wearing hearing aids typically does not need people to speak more loudly. Speaking loudly can cause words to become distorted and possibly be uncomfortable to the listener.

Hearers can help improve communication by facing the person speaking to them, clarifying what they think they heard, and always wearing their hearing aids. Clarification provides an opportunity for the speaker to correct misunderstandings. Consistent use of hearing devices is critical to successful communication. Inconsistent use of hearing aids can be confusing for those who are trying to accommodate an individual with hearing loss.

Regardless of whether you are the speaker or the listener, patience is the key to effective communication. Just like the misunderstanding with my wife, clarification is key. And if you or a loved one regularly mishears, consider having a comprehensive hearing exam to see if the problem is hearing loss.

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