Tips for supporting someone with hearing loss

selfie of the author, Lana Hallowes. She is wearing glasses and a pink shirt.


Tips for supporting someone with hearing loss

“What was that?” If you get asked this a lot, then chances are you’re supporting a person with hearing loss.

Being hearing impaired myself, I know only too well how frustrating communication is. Mainly for me, but also for those trying to talk to me.

In celebration of Hearing Awareness Week and World Hearing Day on 3 March, here are my top tips for supporting someone living with hearing loss. They are all small things that have a big impact!

Hearing loss in Australia

You might be surprised to learn that hearing loss is extremely common.

Almost four million Australians live with this disability. But when it comes to older Australians, the stats are much higher.

According to The Department of Health and Aged Care, hearing loss impacts almost half of Australians aged 60-70. This increases to 70% over the age of 70, and for those aged 80 and older, hearing loss affects 80% of people. Due to our ageing population, the number of people living with hearing loss is set to double by 2060.

What’s more, hearing loss is the second most common physical disability after musculoskeletal issues (such as back problems and arthritis) in older Australians.

Hearing loss is all around us. If you live with it yourself, then you’ll know intimately how much it impacts your life.

The social isolation of hearing loss

One of the most distressing things about not being able to hear well, and therefore not being able to understand what’s going on and participate in conversations easily, is that you feel excluded.

Indeed, multiple studies have found that hearing loss is associated with a much higher risk of loneliness and social isolation (and here are some ideas for independent support workers to combat this).

Even a family get-together can be too hard when you can’t hear well, let alone going to the noisy shops or simply having a chat with a neighbour who is watering the garden.

The good news is, when others are aware of the challenges those with hearing loss face, and how they can help to reduce them, inclusion occurs.

Top tips for supporting people with hearing loss

When supporting someone with hearing loss, there are a few things you can do which will make a massive difference to your client and your relationship with them:

Face us when you talk

Lip reading is a skill all people with hearing loss develop over time and rely on. Lip formation and facial expressions aid us in understanding what’s being said, even if we didn’t hear it.

Turn off all background noise

When speaking to us please switch off any noise you can – like a boiling kettle, TV and microwave. Background noise is very hard to hear over.

Get our attention before you talk

It feels unnatural but saying our name, or gently touching us before you speak, will ensure you have our attention. We are less likely to ask you to repeat yourself when you do this.

Speak slower, rather than louder

Many of us wear hearing aids and increased volume is distorting. We need you to slow down your speech so we can process what’s being said, not yell at us.

Sit closer

Distance reduces our ability to hear even more, so please sit closer to us when talking.

Don't assume hearing aids are the cure for hearing loss

Hearing aids are a big help but we will always struggle to hear in certain environments, like a cafe with background chatter and noise. Your understanding and consideration of this is appreciated.

Turn on the TV subtitles

Rather than increasing the volume to a dangerous level, which could further damage our hearing, please select subtitles if we can read them.

Learn hearing aid maintenance

Hearing aids can be fiddly to maintain when you have reduced dexterity or eyesight. They are small and things like changing batteries, cleaning them and replacing filters can be hard for us, but are crucial for boosting our hearing. A badly maintained hearing aid is like a car that hasn’t been serviced. It won’t work as well. Please learn how to do this by asking us, or coming to our audiology appointment where our audiologist can show you.

Make phone calls on our behalf if needed

Unless our hearing aids are bluetoothed to the phone, it may be too hard for us to hear while booking appointments or making enquiries. Thank you for offering to do this for us.

Ask us

We’ll know where the best place is for us to hear. Sometimes this is outside, away from the indoor noise, or in a quiet corner. Just ask us to tell you!

Never say "It doesn't matter"

If we ask you to repeat something, please don’t say “It doesn’t matter” – even if it doesn’t anymore. It matters to us that we missed it, and these words make us feel more excluded. Please fill us in if we ask.

Thank you for reading these tips. They will greatly improve your ability to support a person with hearing loss. Please also share them with others and help to make society more aware of hearing loss.

Awareness leads to understanding, which leads to inclusion.

Living with hearing loss? Find a support worker on Mable experienced in working with people with invisible disabilities.

Lana Hallowes is a freelance writer and mum of two boys, who are growing up much faster than she’d like. She loves writing for Mable and is an advocate for inclusion, being hearing impaired herself and living in a neurodiverse household.