It feels like we talk about it all the time. “Please face me so I can hear you,” or “Can you repeat that slower,” but I sometimes wonder if it is sinking in. Objectively, I think my family knows what they need to do to help me hear, but it often slips their mind, or seems unimportant since in many cases, I function quite well. It’s not obvious that I need help, so when I do, they are not always there for me. Until recently. We had a formal family meeting about my hearing loss. It seemed to make a difference. My fingers are crossed that this momentum will continue.
Hearing loss takes a toll on a family and a marriage. While my family supports me many times, there are other instances where I feel left out to dry with no support and no assistance. That is probably the case for many of us with hearing loss. Since our disability is invisible, and variable — we hear well in certain environments, but not in others — it is easily misunderstood, discounted or ignored.
One Saturday morning, my husband called the family together. “We need to talk about your mother’s hearing loss,” he said, “and how we can do a better job to help her hear.” At first, my kids were annoyed with this. “We talk about this all the time,” they said, “we know what to do.”
“But we need to do better,” he declared. “She is an important part of this family and we love her. It is our responsibility to help her hear.” I was blinking back tears for that part.
We spent some time brainstorming communication best practices to use with people with hearing loss. Things like:
- Get the person’s attention first before speaking.
- Make sure your mouth is visible to aid with lipreading.
- State the subject of the conversation if the topic has shifted.
- Talk clearly and at a moderate pace.
- Watch the person for clues as to whether she is hearing you or not. If she doesn’t seem to be understanding, speak louder, slower or rephrase.
- Keep your volume up, even in quiet places.
Truth be told, it was a little bit repetitive of things we have discussed before, but the formality of the conversation made it different. More serious and more memorable. I have noticed a difference already in my family’s behavior, especially in monitoring me to see if I am understanding in the moment. Let’s hope it sticks.
Readers, is your family on your hearing loss team?
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.