If you have a loved one with hearing loss, you might sometimes feel at a loss for what you can do to help. Without the ability to experience the world as your loved one does, you might find yourself imagining what it feels like. This impulse toward empathy is a good sign that you will be able to support your loved one, but it’s not enough to speculate about what they need. Though you might think you have a sense of life with hearing loss, each person’s experience is quite different from the next. Though you’d like to find a way to help your loved one, you might even end up doing more harm than good. Let’s walk through the things you can do to support your loved one. As you will see, communication is the key to helping your loved one in ways that are effective and that are tailored to their individual needs.
Start with a Conversation
The first step toward supporting your loved one with hearing loss is to have a conversation about what you can do to help. If your loved one already admits to having hearing loss, then half the battle is already won. You can simply ask what you can do to help. In some cases, you will find that your loved one needs and appreciates the ways you are already showing support. In other cases, you might find that your attempts are not very helpful or even counterproductive. If your loved one doesn’t yet admit to having hearing loss, this conversation can be more difficult. The best you can do is to ask thoughtful, caring questions and to see what they say. By asking about experiences when it seemed to be difficult to hear, you will be paving the way for them to become open when they are ready.
Ask Specific Questions
When you are talking with your loved one, be sure to ask specific questions when possible. Rather than stopping at the general question, “What can I do to help?” you might want to continue by asking if certain behaviors are helpful. You might want to provide some example scenarios to see if your impulses to assist are helpful or not. For instance, if you tend to talk more loudly, just ask your loved one if that works to make hearing easier. If you tend to translate questions from a group for your loved one, you can ask if they like it when you do that. The important thing is to allow your loved one with hearing loss to remain in the driver’s seat, maintaining independence and agency in the process of communication.
Follow General Guidelines
Although each person’s experience of hearing loss is unique, a few general principles tend to be helpful for most people with hearing loss. The first principle is to provide as much sensory information as possible. Though hearing ability might be compromised, watching you communicate can fill in some of the gaps in meaning. Not only do people with hearing loss tend to watch body language and gestures for more meaningful cues, but they also have a tendency to read mouth movements, even when they don’t know they’re doing so. You can make sure to stand facing your loved one when you are communicating and avoid calling out from another room where it’s impossible to see one another. Another helpful general principle is to allow your loved one to speak for themself rather than answering on their behalf. Doing so can make a person with hearing loss feel like they are being ignored or erased from the conversation. Simply relaying questions and information is a good way to make your loved one feel included in conversations that might be difficult to hear.
If you abide by these simple communication strategies, you are well on your way to supporting your loved one who has hearing loss. When you have an impulse to help in a certain way, remind yourself to ask if it is indeed helpful or not. You might find that you are already doing a great job to support your loved one, communicate and engage with the world.