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"I Can't Hear You Now" – Caring for a Client with Hearing Loss

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Senior Man Hearing Test.jpgIt's a common reality of aging: some of our senses may decline as we get older. Vision can become clouded, taste buds don't detect flavors as well, and hearing can become muffled, making it hard to discern individual words or make sense of a conversation. The National Institutes of Health estimates that one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has some degree of hearing loss, while about half of those over age 75 have trouble hearing.

Hearing impairment represents more than a functional decline. According to Caption Call's Hearing Loss Conversation Kit, untreated hearing loss has been implicated in sadness and depression. A study by the U.S. National Council on Aging found that people who did not treat their hearing loss were 50 percent more likely to report symptoms of depression. Hearing loss also has been identified as a "modifiable risk factor" for falls. And older adults with a hearing deficit may not hear a smoke alarm going off, a ringing doorbell or a doctor's important instructions during an appointment.

If you care for a client who exhibits hearing loss, try these best practices for more effective communication.

Know the Signs of Hearing Loss

Identifying hearing impairment in an older adult may not be as straightforward as it seems. Many people learn to compensate for the slow, subtle decline of their hearing by adapting behaviors that make them appear to hear just fine. For example, they may still participate in conversations, but you'll notice their comments don't quite fit the thread of the discussion. Here are some other signs  that can point to hearing loss:

  • Becoming withdrawn and quiet when it's their nature to be talkative
  • Turning up the TV volume
  • Speaking in a loud voice
  • Avoiding face-to-face conversations
  • Turning to email, texting or writing things down on paper
  • Frequently blaming a "poor connection" for their inability to hear telephone conversations

How to Communicate Effectively with a Hearing-Impaired Client

The Cleveland Clinic published a list of ways family members, clinicians and other care providers can communicate more effectively with someone who has hearing loss. Tips that you can adapt for clients include:

  • Get the person's attention before speaking. Try saying the client's name or lightly touching his forearm or shoulder to make sure he is aware you are speaking to him.
  • Make eye contact. Get face-to-face with the client because your facial expressions play an integral role in communication. Also, the client may be able to read your lips a bit to get the gist of what you're saying.
  • Speak naturally. When you shout, the sound of your words becomes distorted. Sometimes it can help to lower your vocal register (speak in a deeper voice), but increasing volume generally has a negative effect on a person's ability to hear you.
  • Rephrase instead of repeating. If a hearing-impaired client doesn't understand what you said the first time, it may not help to say the same thing again. Instead, find a different way to convey the information. For example, if a client does not understand you when you say, "What would you like for lunch?" try rephrasing as, "It is time for lunch. Would you like a sandwich or soup?"
  • Make sure the environment is well-lit Good lighting not only adds cheerfulness to the surroundings but illuminates your face, so the client can better observe what you're saying.

Coping with hearing loss can be frustrating for clients. By taking steps to communicate effectively with them, you provide compassionate care that enriches their quality of life.


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