Ear, Nose & Throat
December 8, 2015

Hearing loss help: tips for better communication


Follow these steps to create better understanding for loved ones experiencing hearing loss.


Communication can be a challenge for the millions of Americans with hearing loss. But in addition to properly fit hearing aids and other devices, simple everyday adjustments can help the process, too.

“We try to teach good communication strategies, like talking to each other while in the same room and turning down the television when you’re talking,” said Jill Gruenwald, an audiologist and assistant director of the Adult Hearing Aid Program at Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. “Families sometimes have bad habits of yelling from down the hall or asking what you want for dinner from the laundry room when a person is in the kitchen. These are habits that we develop much earlier in life when hearing isn’t a factor.”

Once a hearing loss has been identified, the following tips from Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center can help make communication clearer. It also can reduce frustration for those with hearing impairments and their family, friends, co-workers and others.

If you have hearing loss:
• Tell the speaker about your hearing difficulties. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to suggest ways he or she can help you understand.
• Plan ahead. If you are dining out, choose a restaurant that is relatively quiet and go during a slower time. Pick a seat away from the noisy kitchen and sit with your back to the window to help you see the speaker’s face clearly.
• Be conscious of the environment: Are background noise or nearby conversations creating a distraction? Are there echoes in the room, or are rugs and drapes there to help absorb them? Is there enough light? Can you position yourself so you can see the speaker’s face?
• Limit the number of people in a conversation at once. One-on-one talks are easier.
• Ask your spouse or someone nearby to let you know when the topic of conversation changes.
• Ask for information to be repeated if you have missed something. Provide guidance on the portion of the conversation you did hear.
• If you cannot interrupt the speaker, ask someone near you to fill in what you missed.
• Avoid pretending you understood what was said. This will only worsen the problem and could confuse things later.
• Don’t stop trying, even if you feel like you are missing a lot of the conversation. Nonverbal or situational cues may help you get back on track.
• Be patient and flexible.

If you are communicating with someone who has a hearing loss:
• Get the listener’s attention before you begin speaking.
• Try to face the person you are talking to. Don’t turn your back toward him or walk way while talking, and don’t initiate a conversation from another room.
• If someone you are talking to wears hearing aids and/or tells you he or she has a hearing loss, do not shout or exaggerate your mouth movements. Speak clearly, a little more slowly and a little bit more loudly. Pause between phrases to give the listener time to process what you are saying.
• Do not put obstacles in front of your face such as newspapers, hair or hands.
• Do not speak with objects in your mouth, including gum, food or cigarettes.
• Do not try to compete with background noise: Turn down or turn off the television, radio, running water and so on.
• Use facial expressions and gestures when communicating to give more cues to the topic of conversation.
• Clarify effectively. Give clues when changing the subject; rephrase when you are not understood instead of just repeating what was said; and confirm details to make sure the person understood.
• Ask for suggestions to improve communication and then accommodate them the best you can.
• Be patient and positive.


The Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center offers ongoing, free classes on Living With Hearing Loss at One Hundred Oaks Center, Administrative Offices, Room 26103, in Nashville. Topics covered include the anatomy of the ear, hearing aid technology, communication strategies and more. See details here.

The Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center specializes in ear, nose and throat diseases, and communication disorders such as hearing, speech, language and voice problems. Learn more and book an appointment.


2 thoughts on “Hearing loss help: tips for better communication”

  1. Peggy Hcks says:

    All this sounds good but when people get mad if I ask them to repeat themselves or tell me that I’m getting on their nerves because I didn’t understand them as they were talking in the other direction and the sound of their voice is going away from me? I have spent about $5000. On hearing aids but do not hear any better with them as without. They pick up the surrounding noises and cut out people talking!!!

    1. Linda Zettler says:

      Hi, Peggy – I’m sorry you’re having a frustrating time. Two things spring to mind from my conversations with our Bill Wilkerson Center experts. About other people’s reactions: Perhaps it would help if you shared this story with people in your life so they can see this professional advice. Everyone plays a role in making communication clear, and this story provides advice not only for the person with hearing loss but also for those communicating with them. About your hearing aid: So much of the effectiveness of hearing aids depends on a proper fit. It might be helpful to return to a qualified audiologist for a re-evaluation if yours are not working for you. Also, Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center offers free classes on living with hearing loss, and the topics covered include “hearing loss and the hearing test, hearing aid technology, communication strategies and styles, and roles of communication partners.” The link to more information is above, at the end of the story. I hope this helps, Peggy.

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