13 September 2021

How to support deaf loved ones and those with hearing loss

older woman with hearing aid

If you know someone who has developed hearing loss or if there is a deaf loved one in your life, it’s only natural that you might be looking into how you can support them. Whether it’s an older stairlift user that you live with who has now developed hearing loss or someone young in years, we all need support. In this guide, we offer some tips and advice for how you can support deaf loved ones and those with hearing loss, helping to create an environment for the hearing impaired where they can flourish.

Learn how to communicate

For someone who is deaf or has hearing loss, staying connected with other people can sometimes be difficult, leading to isolation. It’s important therefore to improve how you communicate with someone in this position, helping to keep them involved in day-to-day activities and social occasions.

Shari Eberts, the founder of the blog and online community Living With Hearing Loss, has shared the following tip with us: “The best way to support a relative or loved one with hearing loss is to make communication easier. Use communication best practices like getting their attention before speaking. Facing them and keeping your face uncovered during conversations will also help with lipreading. Small changes in behaviour can make socialising more satisfying for both sides.”  

Carly, from the blog My Hearing Loss Story and founder of the Sudden Hearing Loss Support website, has shared with us a collection of top tips for improving communication with people who have hearing loss. Like Shari, she recommends first getting the person’s attention and making sure your face can be seen clearly:

“Since hearing loss is invisible, it can be something that is easy to forget. This means communication with loved ones can be affected which, in turn, can lead to relationship problems. Therefore, it is important to find new ways of communicating more effectively. 

“Here are a few tips to help make communication easier for people with hearing loss:

- “First get their attention: Before addressing them, make sure you have the person's attention. You can do this in various ways, including tapping them gently on their arm, or moving into their focus so they can see you.

- “Make sure your lips are visible: Some people rely on lipreading and body language to aid communication. Avoid sitting in front of a window as this causes a silhouette effect meaning your lips cannot be seen. Consider the lighting in the room and try not to cover your mouth with your hands while speaking.

- “Avoid shouting: Shouting can sound distorted to people with hearing loss and hearing aid users. Focus on speaking clearly, rather than loudly.

- “Rephrase rather than repeat: Repeating missed dialogue can sometimes help. However, since the person with hearing loss may have difficulty hearing certain tones, rephrasing is often more effective.

- “Use a speech-to-text app: There are helpful apps you can use on your mobile phone, that can convert spoken words to written text on the screen.

- “Use a pen and paper: If there is any important information, make sure you write it down, to ensure the person with hearing loss understands.

- “Be patient: Communicating can be frustrating for both the person with hearing loss and their communication partners. It is important to be patient and take the time to figure out helpful communication strategies.

“Furthermore, the introduction of wearing facemasks, means that speech can sound muffled, and the speaker's lips cannot be seen. This poses a challenge for people with hearing loss. To help aid communication, make sure to lower your face mask (at a safe distance) so your lips are visible when speaking.

“It is important to remember that communication is a two-way process. Although it can be difficult to advocate, if those who have hearing loss make their communication needs known to their communication partners, this can lead to more effective exchanges.”

For those who are interested, Carly also runs a Facebook support group for people with hearing loss.

If your loved one is deaf, sign language is an important method of communication, so taking the time to learn this language yourself will also be important. For those interested in learning sign language, you can find courses and resources on the British Sign Language website.

Show patience and understanding

woman with husband who uses hearing aid

When caring and supporting someone with hearing loss or deafness, it’s very important to show patience and understanding in all your interactions with them. Sometimes they might not follow something you have said, ask you to repeat yourself, or not entirely grasp an instruction. Try your best not to get frustrated and try to put yourself in their shoes. If their hearing loss is new to them, it can be a scary and strange time where they will rely on your support and love. As a result, it’s vital not to make things any more difficult for them than they need to be.

Liam O’Dell, a journalist and campaigner specialising in deafness, said that patience is key when speaking to us about his tips: “I think the importance of having patience underpins a lot of deaf awareness tips, especially when it comes to supporting deaf and hard of hearing people. Understand that their communication needs may vary over time, and in different environments, too (such as restaurants, for example).

“Not only that but appreciate that there will come times where things may have to be repeated, or where there is a communication breakdown, and work to get through those moments - have patience and either repeat what you’ve said or phrase it differently. You don’t need to show, or speak slowly, with your lip movements exaggerated. Similarly, you shouldn’t say ‘never mind’, ‘it doesn’t matter’ or any other variation. It matters to them, they are interested in the conversation, and should be allowed to participate in that.”

Create a helpful living environment

Part of supporting a deaf loved one or a relative with hearing loss is helping create a living environment that is adapted to their situation. There are a number of modifications, both big and small, that you can make to the home that will make life easier. For example, you can redecorate to ensure that rooms are full of light to make lip reading simpler. Adjusting a TV’s settings to ensure subtitles are on as standard will also be helpful. There is also a range of assistive technology that can be introduced into the home, including smoke alarms that alert you with flashing lights, doorbells that are adapted for people with hearing loss, and text to speech services to help people talk over the phone.

The charity Royal National Institute for Death People (RNID) has an extensive resource of some of the great assistive living devices available.

Help them with their hearing aids

woman being helped with hearing aid

Many people with hearing loss rely on their hearing aids so you can be supportive by helping them look after these important tools. If you are caring for an older relative at home, for example, you could take charge of keeping the hearing aid clean for them by regularly wiping it so that it doesn’t break down. You can keep track of its batteries, changing them regularly and checking to make sure it’s working okay. If the hearing aid needs repair, you could arrange for these fixes to be made and make sure there is a spare one in a safe place that can be used in the meantime.

If you know someone who has just started wearing a hearing aid, the adjustment period for them can be tricky. Hearing aid provider Oticon has the following advice: “Once the hearing aids have been fitted, you need to encourage him/her to be patient. Amplified sound can be overwhelming because the brain has to learn to listen to forgotten sounds again. But it’s important to wear the hearing aids as much as possible, to give the brain time to adjust. If the volume seems too soft or too loud, encourage him/her to have the hearing aids adjusted.”

Attend appointments with them

You could also consider attending any hearing care appointments with them. This is a nice way to show your support and how much you care, proving to them that they are not alone. If the person in question knows that they can rely on you, it will be a big help to them. By going along to these appointments, you can also use it as an opportunity to ask any questions you might have so that you can better support your loved one. Some people will want to do things alone, but it never hurts to offer to be by their side.

Ask them what they need

woman and her mother

One of the best ways that you can support a loved one is by asking them what it is they need. Talk to them, ask them how you can help, what they are struggling with, what parts of the day to day are proving tricky. Then you can look into possible solutions to make life easier for them. For example, they might be finding communication difficult or are feeling isolated. The NHS has the following to say when it comes to finding out how someone might need help communicating:

“Many people with hearing loss find it difficult or impossible to use the telephone so it is good to offer them other ways of getting in touch like text messaging, text relay, text phone or online services. It is best to ask each person what their communication needs are and what support they need.”

Tips for supporting those who are deaf or have hearing loss

  • Learn how to communicate
  • Show patience and understanding
  • Create a helpful living environment
  • Help them with their hearing aids
  • Attend appointments with them
  • Ask them what they need

Hopefully, the tips and advice above will give you a few ideas for how you can support and care for a loved one who is either deaf or has hearing loss. There is so much we can do to help and make life easier for those we love.

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