LOS ANGELES—Middle-aged adults are in an interesting demographic between kids and parents, neither of whom listens. What do we do when hearing loss makes communication even more difficult?
Dad handed me a brochure from his doctor. “Improving communication with the hearing impaired,” I read the title out loud. “This isn’t going to suggest I watch ”˜Wheel of Fortune,’ is it?”
I understand this list was written by qualified physicians. They obviously want their patients and patients’ families to get through dinner without killing each other.
But it doesn’t go nearly as far as it should. That’s why I am reprinting their suggestions here with my additions included.
1. Get the attention of the hearing impaired person before you speak. Grab his remote control. If you want mom’s attention, make marinara sauce in the “pasta” pot while boiling tortellini in the “tomato” pot. But you might want to have a defibrillator close by.
2. Do not shout; shouting distorts your voice. Besides, they’ll still ignore you. Try not to tap them on the shoulder or poke them in the belly either. Senior citizens have died this way.
3. Come within a distance of three to seven feet from the listener. The more hard-of-hearing the person, the closer proximity may be needed. Hopefully you don’t mind the smell of Ben-gay, Old Spice and garlic.
4. The listener should be able to see your face clearly as you speak. That way she can remind you to stop wrinkling your forehead.
5. Speak clearly; do not exaggerate mouth and lip movements. They will think you are mocking them. Trust me.
6. Do not cover your mouth, chew, or turn away while speaking. Dad will accuse you of talking about him, like the ladies where he drops off his dry cleaning.
7. Rephrase, rather than repeat the exact same words. If they hear the same things over and again, they tune out. Instead of asking them for the 900th time to close every cupboard in the kitchen before they put an eye out, threaten litigation. It works.
8. Reduce the background noise while speaking. Turn off the three televisions and two radios they’ve forgotten about.
9. Write the message, or key words, for better understanding. Why? So they can spend five minutes squinting at whatever you wrote and another ten trying to find eyeglasses to read it?
10. Be patient with the hearing-impaired, especially after a Skype session. No matter how many times we explain modern technology, my parents still believe shouting is acceptable because my brother is, after all, in Philadelphia.
11. Ask the hearing-impaired person if he/she can hear and understand you; if not, ask what you could do to improve communication. Then sit down and prepare yourself for a lecture about gratitude and how a trip to church every once in a while wouldn’t hurt.
12. Ask the hearing-impaired person to repeat what he/she heard; this is important to confirm that the message was understood. This is like family therapy sessions in the '80s when no one could deal with your hair or attitude. It worked about as well back then, too.
Dad isn’t the only one with helpful doctors. Mom just got instructions on how to help her feet.
“If you see a belt around my bedpost, don’t get the wrong idea,” she said, in a restaurant, way louder than the law allows. “Belt stretches help me walk without a limp. We aren’t doing anything inappropriate with it.”
Then she asked the waiter to do something about the light because who can read this menu?