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Hear Hear!                                                                       August 2009 

Hear Hear!

How to help people who suffer from hearing loss

Hear hearAround nine million adults in the UK suffer from hearing loss, but only two million seek professional advice to do anything about it.

That means there are an awful lot of people out there with reduced hearing. In most cases the degeneration is gradual, so sufferers can be unaware just how bad their hearing has become.

Interestingly, compensating when a relation or friend is suffering from hearing loss is equally unrecognised. Partners can raise their voices or become accustomed to repeating sentences without really realizing they are doing it; it all happens so gradually.

The RNID (the Royal National Institute for Deaf People) give a great deal of information and help for deaf people, but they also give advice to people who live with or spend time with people who are suffering from hearing loss.

They say there are a number of myths about hearing loss which can cause confusion.

Hearing aids

The first is that hearing aids can restore hearing. While hearing aids can be of enormous assistance to many deaf and hard of hearing people, they cannot restore hearing that has been lost. Hearing aids general merely amplify sound, and this means amplifying everything which can cause background noise to be a real problem.

Although digital hearing aids are better equipped to deal with background noise, no hearing aid can cut it out entirely. All aids work best when their wearers are having one-to-one conversations in quiet environments. If the person you are talking to is wearing a hearing aid, do not assume their hearing is totally normal.


When we know someone is deaf, the natural tendency is to shout. The RNIB say it is not a good idea to shout at a deaf or hard of hearing person. When people shout they distort their voices and make it more difficult for hard of hearing people to identify words. You can appear to be angry and cause embarrassment if you shout. And the increased volume can actually be painful for deaf or hard of hearing people, particularly if they wear a hearing aid.

Instead of shouting - or speaking too slowly or exaggerating your lip movements – speak clearly. To speak clearly you should form your words properly and speak at a regular volume. Try to maintain the natural rhythm of your speech. Use plain language if that helps, rephrasing where necessary; but don't oversimplify, as that can appear patronising.

Are they listening?

A common comment can be: “Deaf people only hear me when they feel like it”. In fact, deaf and hard of hearing people may be able to understand what you are saying some of the time, but not all the time, and it is this that can be confusing.

The reasons for this vary. Depending on the degree of deafness, a deaf person may be able to hear some sounds at certain pitches, but hear little else.

For people wearing hearing aids, these work best in quiet environments across a distance of no more than 1.5 metres and in one-to-one conversations. If there is noise or several people talking, or even a windy day, the hearing aid user might need the help of assistive devices like induction loops to eliminate background sounds.

Those who lipread find that lipreading requires intense concentration. That means that someone who relies on lipreading has to concentrate all day long and may not be able to continue when they are tired.

If you're speaking to someone who's deaf

The RNID give these tips if you are speaking to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing:

  • Even if someone is wearing a hearing aid, it doesn't mean that they can hear you. Ask if they need to lipread you.
  • Make sure you have the listener's attention before you start speaking.
  • Speak clearly but not too slowly, and don't exaggerate your lip movements.
    Use natural facial expressions and gestures.
  • If you're talking to a deaf person and a hearing person, don't just focus on the hearing person.
  • Don't shout. It's uncomfortable for a hearing aid user and it looks aggressive.
  • If someone doesn't understand what you've said, don't just keep repeating it. Try saying it in a different way.
  • Find a suitable place to talk, with good lighting, away from noise and distractions.
  • Remember not to turn your face away from a deaf person. Always turn back to your listener so they can see your face.
  • Check that the person you're talking to can follow you. Be patient and take the time to communicate properly.
  • Use plain language and don't waffle. Avoid jargon and unfamiliar abbreviations.

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