ACC ~ The Audiology Awareness Campaign
If you are reading this article, you undoubtedly know the frustration often encountered when communication difficulty arises because of hearing loss. In this article, we will share suggestions that will address many of the issues associated with these frustrations. Often, very minor adjustments by the person speaking and/or by the person listening will greatly increase the ability of the listener to understand what is being said. In turn, application of these principles will make repetition and misunderstanding less common.
If you experience frustration in your attempts to communicate with someone with hearing loss, please understand that they are not trying to make life difficult for you. If you are the person with the hearing loss, understand that others are not trying to make life difficult for you.
One of the most common misperceptions that creates difficulty is that hearing aids will completely resolve the communication problem. No hearing instrument can fully restore normal hearing ability. They can be wonderfully helpful devices, but certainly do not fully repair a damaged auditory system. Thus, there is a gap between desired results and actual results when a person uses hearing instruments and depends on them to do everything to resolve communication difficulty. The suggestions in this article will provide you with important insights that can augment and expand what the hearing instruments are providing. The combination of hearing instrument use and employing these suggestions will produce more beneficial outcomes-a plus for both speaker and listener.
Before getting into the suggestions, it is important to understand that the way we communicate is largely based on long-standing habit. You understand that habits are difficult to change. So, if you want to employ these suggestions, you will need to work very hard at it for a few weeks until you have replaced an old communication habit with a new one. Also, changing a habit is more difficult if the change is only applied to communication with one person. It is much easier if you use these suggestions with everyone. Trust me, others will not realize you are doing anything different, but people whom you didn't know to have a hearing loss will find it so much easier to communicate with you.
Now, on to issues and suggestions:
A. The single most important enhancement to hearing is vision. All of us learned the visual component of language at the same time and in the same way we learned the auditory component. We are as familiar with how sounds/words look as how they sound. Thus, you want to insure that the visual component of speech is available and utilized to enhance hearing. Every hearing-impaired person knows how much easier it is to communicate with someone whose face they can see. The following suggestions will help with this:
B. People with hearing loss have more difficulty in noise than do normal hearing individuals-even when hearing devices raise the volume of the sound so they can hear it. The problem is understanding the message in a background of noise. To facilitate understanding speech in a background of noise, it is necessary to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. That is, the relative intensity of the desired speech compared to the background noise must be increased. In addition to noise canceling algorithms and directional microphone technology employed in hearing instruments to help with this issue, it is important to utilize the following suggestions to further enhance understanding.
There are two basic solutions to this that may be used alone or in combination: increase the volume of the signal and/or decrease the volume of the noise.
C. When hearing/understanding speech is difficult, we utilize context to help us "fill in the blanks." That is, if we get part of or most of the utterance, we can often accurately guess what we didn't hear. This happens very frequently. In reality, our brain does not care how much of the message we get by audition, how much by vision or how much from context, and so forth. The bottom line is that we either understand or we do not. The human brain is marvelously adaptive and will utilize any information available to us to facilitate understanding.
D. Normal conversational speech involves many "shortcuts." We drop sounds, run words together and otherwise corrupt the message. Because we are so familiar with the language and normal speech patterns, we have no particular difficulty understanding. Hearing loss creates an entirely different situation-one that makes such speech sound too garbled to understand. People with hearing loss often bemoan the fact that people speak "too fast" or "run their words together."
Normal hearing people alter this speech style when they are in a difficult listening situation such as a noisy place. They tend to speak more distinctly, fully speaking each sound and placing strategic pauses and emphasis to convey a message that would otherwise not be understood. It is important to understand that a person with hearing loss is always in a "difficult listening situation." Hence, even though your ear does not dictate that you shift to the more precise "difficult listening situation" style of speech, your listener's hearing will be enhanced if you use it.
E. Each person's hearing problem is a bit unique and specific strategies may be more helpful for one person than another. Nevertheless, the general principles outlined above are fairly universal in enhancing communication. If, after employing the above strategies, you continue to have significant difficulty with communication issues, consult with your audiologist for more specific suggestions tailored to your individual situation.
The extra effort you spend in applying the principles outlined in this article will pay big dividends in enhancing your ability to communicate. Best wishes for more effective communication!