Hearing Loss: Tips for Better Communication

Reviewed by Shelley A. Borgia, CCCA on May 10, 2017
man straining to hear phone

If you’re living with hearing loss, conversations can be a challenge. But sometimes “the most effective aids are small lifestyle changes,” says Rosellen Reif, a counselor in Raleigh, N.C., who helps people with physical disabilities. 

Here are some things that can help.

Ask for a heads up. Have loved ones say your name and get your attention before they start talking. For example, “Mom, where are the car keys?”

Face others when they’re speaking. Make sure you can see a person’s face and lips when they talk. Their expressions and body language will put what they’re saying in context.

Turn off other noise. When you want to have a conversation, switch off things that can drown it out, like a TV or radio, or move away from them. When you’re going out to eat, ask for a table away from large parties or the kitchen.

Repeat information back. Many numbers and words sound alike. When you get important details from someone, like a time or date, repeat it back to them. Better yet, get it in writing.

Know your limits. If you’re sick or tired, your hearing or how well you understand others may be worse than usual.

Tell others what you need. Saying “I’m hard of hearing” is a good start, but “it doesn’t give the person you’re talking with advice for how they can best help you,” Reif says. 

Be clear about what you need them to do. You can ask them to look at you when they speak. Also, ask that they not eat, chew gum, or smoke when they’re talking so you can see their mouth.

“By giving people specific ways they can help you hear,” Reif says, “you’re reducing their frustration and confusion as well as your own.”

Find an alternative to “what?” Saying “what?” over and over “can sound rude, especially if you’re saying it a little louder because you’re straining to understand,” says Angela Nelson, AuD, a hearing doctor in Burbank, CA.

Instead, say what you think you heard. “That small difference makes people feel like you’re trying to understand and can ease tension.”

Look for a device that works for you. A professional audiologist, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, or a hearing aid specialist can help you find products that best fit your needs. Some options to keep in mind:

Hearing aids. They make sound louder for you, much like your own personal P.A. system. They come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. Some fit behind your ear, others directly into the ear canal.

FM systems. This system works well in a classroom setting. The speaker talks into a tiny microphone and the sound beams wirelessly into your hearing aid across the room.

Alerting devices. They connect to a doorbell, phone, or alarm, and give off a blinking light or loud sound to get your attention.

Other assistive listening devices include:

  • Personal amplifiers
  • Infrared headsets
  • Telephones that display your conversation on a screen

Devices like these may take some getting used to. “But once you realize how they improve your interactions with others and your ability to feel like yourself again,” Reif says, “odds are you’ll be happy to incorporate [them] into your daily routine.”

Include loved ones at doctor appointments. Your audiologist can teach your family how your hearing devices work and suggest other ways they can handle your hearing loss.

Get support. Other people living with hearing loss can be great resources, too. Ask your doctor to recommend a support group in your area or online. If you still struggle, you may want to talk about your feelings with a therapist.

Don’t let hearing loss go untreated. People who don’t get help for their condition are more likely to feel depressed or anxious. Research has also found a link between untreated hearing loss and dementia.

People who use hearing aids are not only more likely to meet up with friends, but they feel safer, more confident, and even happier with their sex lives.

“Hearing isn’t just to hear a bird’s pretty song,” Nelson says. “If you lose your hearing, you lose your communication and the people around you.”

Show Sources


National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: “Assistive Devices for People With Hearing, Voice, Speech or Language Disorders.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Tips to Improve Communication When Talking With Someone With Hearing Loss.”

University of California San Francisco Medical Center: “Communicating With People With Hearing Loss.”

Hearing Loss Association of America: “Living With Hearing Loss.”

American Academy of Audiology: “Hearing Aids,” “Assistive Listening and Alerting Devices,” “Untreated Hearing Loss Linked to Depression, Social Isolation in Seniors.”

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: “Untreated Hearing Loss in Adults—A Growing Epidemic.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Hearing Loss and Dementia Linked in Study.”

Angela Nelson, AuD, doctor of audiology, Burbank, CA.

Rosellen Reif, MS, LPCA, CRC, QDD/MHP, licensed professional counselor associate, Raleigh, NC.

Paige Jordan Peterson, AuD, PhD, CCC-A, FAAA, ABA, director of audiology, Great Hills ENT, Austin, TX.

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