There’s no need to shout! Communicating effectively with the hearing impaired

Losing one’s sense of hearing can be a frustrating experience for the elderly – particularly as it often comes at a time when the body is making no attempt at hiding other aches, pains and shortcomings. During this troublesome time, insensitivity or sheer lack of understanding by others can amplify this stress. Here are 8 tips guaranteed to help the hearing impaired elderly person in your care.

Engage the person before you start talking

Ensure that you gain the individual’s attention before you start talking. Address the older person by name and make sure she or he responds. Preferably, position yourself in front of them so they can see your body language. Alternatively, you may wish to touch them gently on the arm while talking to them, to enhance the connection you have while communicating.

Ensure that your face is visible

Our faces give away a lot of information through our expressions, and we all naturally lip read to a certain extent, so make sure your face is clearly visible when talking. Ideally you should be between 1 to 2 metres away from the person you’re communicating with. Turn the light on if the room is particularly dim.

Make lip-reading easier

Those that can lip-read still need you to play your part. Make sure they can see your face and don’t eat, drink or smoke while talking to the hearing impaired individual as this will make it harder for the person to see and read your lips and expressions (and would be pretty disrespectful, don’t you think?)

Eliminate background noise

Background noise can be infuriating for the elderly as it can seem like there’s so much noise, but nothing to hear. When trying to communicate, think of the sounds in your surroundings, such as the dishwasher, washing machine, outdoor noise or a television blaring away. Closing doors, or turning off noisy electronics for a while can make a huge difference to an elderly person trying to listen to you or to others when indoors. If you are out in public, try to remove yourself from any chaotic or noisy environment to find a quiet corner to talk in.

Keep it natural

Remember to speak naturally. It’s both confusing and patronising to speak loudly and exaggerate your words. Of course, make sure you speak clearly and perhaps at a slightly heightened volume if necessary, but don’t overdo it. There’s no need to change your pace, either. Don’t slow your speech down to a snail’s pace. Remember, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity – the individual is going deaf, not silly!

Rephrase and repeat

In line with respecting a person’s dignity, as well as common sense, if an individual can’t hear what you’re saying, repeating the same words again and again probably won’t help. It will only frustrate and humiliate the listener. Try another way of expressing what you are saying. For example, if “Do you want me to get your coat?” is making no sense to the hearing impaired person, rather than repeating the question ten times, which is infuriating, try saying “Can I get your jacket?”

Group environments – get everyone to assist

If you’re sitting at a table in a group environment, ensure that the elderly person can see as many faces as possible. To help further, choose a location that is not filled with overwhelming background noise. Loud restaurants and public places can be a nightmare for a hearing impaired individual, so respect this fact and choose quieter environments for group get-togethers.

Confirm that all is understood

Communicating effectively with the hearing impaired  - Sage Institute of Aged CareSometimes an elderly person that has difficulty hearing may just quietly nod along, pretending to understand what is going on. This habit may develop out of the embarrassment of having to ask for people to repeat themselves. If you think that your elderly companion may not be following, check in with them and politely ask them if they understand. Doing this regularly will ensure that both you and your listener are on the same page.

Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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