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The Difficulties of Communicating with Hearing Loss

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Young Woman and Elderly Woman

It is fair to say that most people associate hearing loss with the aging process, to the point where experiencing hearing loss in later life is almost seen as a given – something that will happen, and which we should all expect. The idea continues to the point that hearing loss is almost viewed as no big deal; more an inconvenience than a health condition that requires intervention to manage it – a fact which is especially true for milder forms of hearing loss.

However, if you – or someone you love – is diagnosed with hearing loss, then treating the condition is incredibly important, particularly in regards to enjoyment and quality of life. On initial inspection, it may sound somewhat odd to suggest that hearing loss – a physical condition – can have ramifications for overall happiness, but numerous studies have proven that hearing loss affects far more than a person’s ability to hear. One of the lesser-known side effects of hearing loss is communication issues, which we are going to focus on in more depth below.

How does hearing loss harm communication?

Even in an ever-more online, text-based world, the vast majority of communication still takes place in spoken conversations – either on the phone or in person. To engage in a conversation, two people need to be able to understand one another; to understand one another, they need to be able to hear one another. If the ability to hear is diminished, then conversations become incredibly difficult for the person who is experiencing hearing loss.

What happens when a person with untreated hearing loss converses with someone?

There are several issues that people with hearing loss experience when trying to talk to their family and friends:

  • Muffled speech. The term “hearing loss” does not mean that a person’s ability to hear specific volumes and frequencies is entirely removed. In many cases, a person with hearing loss may still be able to technically hear sounds – but the sounds are indistinct and muffled.
  • Difficulty understanding certain parts of words. Sometimes, a person with hearing loss may miss certain parts of a word due to an impediment to their ability to hear high frequency letters such as F, P, T and K. For example, the word “speak” may only be heard as “ee”, which makes it very difficult to interpret correctly.
  • Difficulty understanding combinations of consonants. Similar to the above, people with hearing loss can struggle to hear combined consonants in words – such as the “SH” in “shoe.”
  • Discrimination issues. When speaking in a noisy environment, people with hearing loss can sometimes struggle to differentiate between the speech of the person they are speaking with and the background noise in the area.

What are the consequences of these issues?

All of the above issues tend to produce the same result: it is next-to-impossible for a person with untreated hearing loss to sustain a conversation. If words cannot be heard clearly, or parts of words are not heard, then following the “flow” of someone’s speech and actively engaging in a conversation is incredibly trying. As a comparison, imagine trying to have a phone conversation with someone who has poor cellular service, so the call keeps dropping out, and you miss words or entire sentences of what they are trying to say – this is akin to the issues that people with hearing loss face.

Furthermore, when conversing with people becomes incredibly complicated, people with hearing loss can begin to avoid social interactions. As sustaining conversations requires so much effort to try and understand, people start to experience fatigue or headaches during or after socializing – and the only solution to this issue seems to be avoiding conversations altogether. As a result, they socialize less, which tends to have negative repercussions for their mental and emotional health.

What are the solutions to the communication difficulties hearing loss can cause?

Thankfully, the solution is simple: speak to – or encourage a loved one to talk to – an audiologist to discuss treatment options for hearing loss. In most cases, hearing aids can be used to great success, allowing anyone with hearing loss to converse with ease, and thus prevent secondary issues such as social isolation.

Hearing loss is not something that has to be accepted, nor is it something that someone has to learn to live with; in fact, doing so can be hugely detrimental. If you, or a friend or family member, are experiencing hearing loss, speak to an audiologist about hearing aids as soon as possible.

If you wish to learn more about Sonus and how we can help you hear better, do not hesitate to get in touch with our office at 703-823-3336.