The Effects of Hearing Loss on a Patient’s Life and How to Better Communicate

We think of the obvious effect of hearing loss with regard to communication difficulties. However, your hearing health contributes to your overall well-being and quality of life. Statistically, hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition in older Americans after hypertension and arthritis. Aging also brings cognitive processing deficits that interfere with communication and can create distractions that lead to memory loss, falls and other accidents. Let’s examine these effects.


Memory and Hearing Loss: Adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than adults with normal hearing. Also, adults with hearing loss develop a significant impairment in their cognitive abilities 3.2 years sooner than those with normal hearing. It’s believed that untreated, degraded hearing may force the brain to devote too much of its energy/resources to processing sound.

Dementia and Hearing Loss: Seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing or treat their hearing loss. It appears that this effect increases as the amount of hearing loss increases.

Falling and Hearing Loss: People with mild hearing loss are three times more likely to have a history of falling. Each additional increase of hearing loss by 10 decibels increases the chance of falling by 1.4 times the original risk.

Mental Health and Hearing Loss: Hearing loss results in social isolation. Adults with untreated hearing loss tend to withdraw from engaging with family and friends. They are also likely to report depression, anxiety, anger and frustration. The degree of depression or other emotional or mental health issues also increases with the severity of the hearing loss.

Tinnitus and Hearing Loss: Tinnitus or “ringing in the ear” affects up to 50 million Americans. Ninety percent of people with tinnitus also have hearing loss. The most common causes of tinnitus are: noise exposure, aging, head injury and medication side effects.

Income and Hearing Loss: Statistics show that people with untreated hearing loss lose up to $30,000 annually. Adults with hearing loss, who wear hearing aids, have a lower unemployment rate than those who don’t.

As a result, hearing loss can affect your life in many ways. You may miss out on talks with friends and family. Sometimes hearing problems can make you feel embarrassed, upset and lonely. It’s easy to withdraw when you can’t follow a conversation. It’s also easy for friends and family to think you are confused, uncaring or difficult when the problem may be that you just can’t hear well.

We often get asked in our office by friends and family, especially when fitting a new patient with hearing aids, how to best communicate with them. So, we thought we’d share some tips on how to communicate with a hearing impaired person

Tips on How to Best Communicate

  1. Face the person and talk clearly (not while walking away from the person or while looking in cabinets, refrigerators, etc.).
  2. Speak at a reasonable speed, often slowing down how you speak is more beneficial than raising your voice.
  3. Do not hide your mouth (so much speech information comes from non-verbal cues and facial expressions) or talk while eating or chewing gum.
  4. Stand in good lighting.
  5. Reduce background noises.
  6. Use facial expressions or gestures to give useful cues.
  7. Repeat yourself if necessary, using different words.
  8. Include the hearing-impaired person when talking. Talk with the person, not about the person when you are with others. This helps keep the person with hearing loss from feeling alone and excluded.
  9. Be patient; stay positive and relaxed.
  10. Ask how you can help!

Also important, here are some tips of what the hearing impaired person can do to improve their communication with hearing aids:

  1. Let people know that you have difficulty hearing.
  2. Ask people to face you and to speak slowly and clearly. Ask them to speak without shouting, which can just distort the speech signal.
  3. Pay attention to what is being said and to facial expressions or gestures.
  4. Let the person talking know if you do not understand.
  5. Ask people to reword a sentence and try again.
  6. Turn off any unnecessary, extraneous noises (such as the radio while in a car, a TV at home, etc.).
  7. Wear your hearing aids consistently!

Therefore, to hear better, is to live better! Start a better health and wellness conversation today! Better hearing health is possible! Call your audiologist today!

Elizabeth Brassine is a Doctor of audiology and owner of Hearing Services of McKinney.