14 ideas to help your communication with the hearing impaired

This article is entitled, ’14 ideas to help your communication with the hearing impaired’ but this article could also be called, “How to be a good wife when your husband is going deaf.” 

It is hard to go from hearing well to being hearing impaired. Are you or your spouse facing this?

Hearing impaired Man with bandage on left ear standing with 3 kidsAre you and your family struggling with a family member who has profound hearing loss or deafness? This marks the 6th year since my husband’s second cochlear implant, 11 years since his first implant. Our family is so thankful to God for this technology because otherwise he would be deaf. Helen Keller observed, “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.” While Helen Keller demonstrated that deaf and blind people could survive and do well in a hearing world, it takes a lot of effort. It takes effort by the person with hearing loss and effort by their family.

My husband had episodes of vertigo beginning in college and was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease. With each episode he lost some hearing. By the time we had been married 10 years, he had lost most of his hearing in his left ear. I had made some small adjustments like walking on his right side or sitting to his right. However in 2005, the Meniere’s moved to his right ear and within a year, he lost all his hearing. He was 46 years old, teaching in a school and  we had 4 children.

That year of my husband’s hearing loss was very difficult for our family. The children and I were frequently being reminded to speak louder, or softer (if his hearing was especially sensitive), or repeat, or not to repeat, or speak slower or more clearly. We all had to make a lot of adjustments. He had to be patient with us and we had to modify the way we communicated to him.

So what can you do to help your spouse if he is going through this difficult transition? Here are 14 ideas that have helped us, both during the time of hearing loss and the transition to electronic hearing via a cochlear implant:

  1. Remember, he is more frustrated than you are about his hearing. Really.
  2. He is only getting limited information from his ears, so he is going to rely on other cues to figure out what is going on. These other cues would be tone of voice, facial expression, and body language. You will need to use all these cues to help get information to him.
  3. Before you talk to your husband, get his attention first. Walk over close to him and gently tap him on the shoulder. Or go over to him and wait for him to acknowledge you.   This is helpful if he is working on a project and is concentrating on something or if he is talking to someone else.)
  4.  Don’t interrupt him when he is talking. This will end badly.
  5. Your voice may stop sounding the same to your spouse. It may even start sounding irritating. As hearing can change (food, weather), his hearing ability may fluctuate. If he is having a very difficult day understanding what you are saying, try using a robot voice. This means that you will use a lower pitched, monotone voice with little inflection and more space between the words.
  6. Don’t shout across the room. Shouting is rude whether you are hearing impaired or not.  Shouting doesn’t work well with hearing loss because your voice will sound angry. Speaking louder may help but beware of sounding angry, irritated or frustrated.  Shouting is associated with these negative emotions.  A slower-paced speech pattern with more space between your words will work better than raising your volume.
  7. If he asks you a question while you are busy working on a project you need to stop and help him. You need to help him even if it is terribly inconvenient and you are making dinner. Turn off the stove, walk over next to him, touch him on the shoulder and then talk to him. Then you can say, “Honey, I’m working on dinner. If you want, I can help you with the mail after dinner, or I can help you now, but then I won’t be able to make dinner.” You want to let him know that you are willing to help him, but that there is something else going on too.
  8. Do not turn away from someone who is hearing impaired while you are talking.  
  9. Do not wipe your mouth or cover your mouth while you are talking to him.
  10. Large group of people eating togeether
  11. Yes, I am repeating this: Use a robot voice to help if he is having a bad hearing day. Lower the pitch of your voice and put more space between words and even space between syllables. “Hel-lo. How-are-you?”
  12. There is something quite isolating to the hearing impaired about everyone else laughing and getting the joke and you don’t know what is going on. Jokes are difficult to follow. Often the reason something is funny is because the punch line comes quickly or unexpectedly. It is difficult to follow a quick conversation with hearing loss or electronic hearing.   While you can’t always manage these situations as well, as much as possible, be willing to repeat so he can get the joke.Small group of people, one laughing
  13. Use simple words and sentences. Say, “What can I get for you from the kitchen?” instead of “wanna beverage?”
  14. If you are moving from one topic to another, say so. Transition words and sentences are very important so that he can follow the conversation. Otherwise, he will assume that the next sentence will go with the previous one.

I am sorry your husband or wife is hearing impaired or losing their hearing. It is a hard thing to go through. You can read about my husband’s experience with Meniere’s disease in God Trains Us Hard.  But you can get through this difficulty and really improve your communication skills by using these suggestions. And there can be such a positive difference that you will be able to honestly say, like I can, Our communication now is better than it was.

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