Many people are under the false impression that if someone has a hearing loss, the entire communication burden must rest on the shoulders of the one with hearing loss. They do not understand that communication is a two-way street. Even if the person with the hearing loss has taken the appropriate step to get hearing aids, their communication partners can mistakenly believe that the aids will resolve everything, sort of like glasses helping those with sight issues. With glasses, once you put them on, vision will be corrected as long as the prescription is correct.

Unfortunately, with hearing aids, it's not that simple. Hearing aids are amplifiers and their job is to make sounds louder. We may hear with our ears but we listen with our brains. If the hearing aids are programmed appropriately, the communication partner may not need to speak louder … but they will need to make an effort to communicate more appropriately to accommodate the hearing loss.

We hear with our ears but we listen with our brains.

In other words, our brain interpret the sound that we hear to give the sound meaning. Most of those with hearing loss have an inner ear hearing loss that occurs in the cochlea, a small snail-shaped tunnel in the bone of the skull, just behind the ear. When the tiny sensory cells in the cochlea are damaged, not only does someone have difficulty hearing but sounds are not as clear as they used to be. Think of the sensory cells as keys on a piano. Now, picture someone playing your favorite song on a piano that has keys that are missing or out of tune. The song will not sound clear and your brain must try to fill in the blanks. That is what it is like for those with a hearing loss. Hearing instruments will make the tune louder, but not necessarily clearer.

Here's what you can do to help improve communication with those with hearing loss:

1. Get the listener's attention before speaking.

In other words, do a “Sound Check” You may not be heard when speaking from another room or if the listener is near a source of noise.

2. Talk face to face

Lip movement, facial expression, and gestures are an important part of conversation.

3. Speak at a slower pace and speak clearly

Avoid over-emphasizing, but enunciate consonants with care.

4. Maintain the volume of your voice through each sentence without dropping the volume at the end of each sentence.

5. When speaking, avoid obstruction your face or mouth with your hands, gum chewing, smoking or eating.

6. Avoid noisy background situations

For example, turn off TV; pick a quieter restaurant, etc.

7. If you're misunderstood, rephrase your comments and avoid repeating the same words.

8. Give clues when changing topics.

Taking a little bit of time to consider your communication partner who has hearing loss will make it easier and more enjoyable for the both of you. And, there's no easier way to tell someone you care about them by making an effort to ensure better communication.