Communicating this Thanksgiving

Hearing loss is a socially isolating disability; make sure your family and friends are communicating effectively around the table to ensure the active participation of everyone.

You may notice someone in your family with hearing loss may be more boisterous when they are communicating one-on-one versus a group. This is because the traditional ways in which we communicate in group settings are not optimal for people with hearing loss. A typical hearing loss that is associated with age means that a person may be able to hear what you are saying but are missing the speech sounds associated with clarity. They may be able to get by in a quiet environment but with any sort of background noise, it begins to overpower the speech sounds they are typically able to hear. So how can you help these family members engage in your thanksgiving conversations?

Communication strategies are the best way to help a person with hearing loss overcome the difficult listening environment.

Virtual Gathering Strategies

  • Lip Reading– It is important for a person with hearing loss to be able to see the speaker’s mouth whenever possible. Ensure that whoever is speaking is facing the camera. If your family is wearing masks opt to wear a face shield or a clear mask.
  • Lighting– This goes hand in hand with being able to see the speaker’s mouth. Ensure optimal lighting whenever possible to make lip reading better.
  • Closed Captioning– Using a captioning service may help a family member or friend follow the conversation easier. Some captioning services may not be the most accurate when they are auto-generated. There are several apps, websites, and tools that offer closed captioning services.

In-Person Strategies

  • Lip-reading– Just like with a video call, lip reading is important in conversations in-person. Ensure you have the attention of the person you’d like to talk to, are facing them, and your mouth is visible.
  • Turn-taking– When multiple people are conversing at once it creates that masking effect described earlier. Make sure talking over one another is limited for the most benefit for a person with hearing loss.
  • Apps for Closed Captioning– Similar to virtual strategies, closed captioning may benefit a person in an in-person conversation. This may be auto-generated as well.

Additional Tips

  • Use Clear Speech– Clear speech does not mean to yell or talk loudly but rather enunciating your speech to make lip reading easier. Shouting may further degrade your message to the person with hearing loss.
  • Rephrasing– It may be tempting to keep repeating the same sentence over again or simply say “forget it!” but it may cause more frustration for both parties in the conversation. Instead, rephrase your message and remain patient with whoever you are trying to communicate with.
  • Keep Mouth Visible- Keep your hands away from your face! As has been previously mentioned, lip reading is an important tool for all listeners. Even normal hearing people lip read. Think of how it may be more challenging to hear people with masks on!

Communication strategies not only help people with hearing loss but also benefit normal hearing people, people with auditory processing disorders, and everyone around your table! If you notice a loved one struggling with communicating this Thanksgiving try encouraging them to seek out a hearing evaluation with your local hearing care professional.