Communication happens between two or more individuals. It involves the sending and receiving of spoken and non-verbal messages to exchange thoughts and feelings. These messages can be profound or mundane, provoking laughter or anger, quickly forgotten in the multitude of exchanges of a busy day, or living on in our memories for many years. Communication typically requires a willingness to be involved in the exchange. We frequently watch the person who is talking, using our eyes to read the body language and facial expressions of the speaker. We even speechread the talker, whether we are aware of it or not, looking for sounds that are visible on the lips to enhance our reception of what is being said.
The most important sense for spoken communication reception is hearing. Our ears are uniquely tuned for the prominent frequencies of human speech, and our voices are uniquely shaped to provide best intelligibility and understanding through our ears. When all aspects of production and reception are in good working order, the message should be sent and received readily.
This is not so when a hearing loss is present. Even a mild loss will disrupt this smooth transmission and understanding. Its effects are profound. People with hearing loss may not be aware of the loss if it happens gradually, but their long-time family, friends, and colleagues are. The hearing-impaired person may feel like “people mumble now,” or they “talk too fast,” or “I hear what I want to hear.” The hearing loss may seem intermittent, with better hearing happening in smaller rooms with little competition. Distance, background noise, and the speaker not facing the listener will create poorer intelligibility. Often the person with the hearing loss will deny any problems. He or she may not be aware that the successfully heard message was repeated three times to achieve success. This is exhausting for the speaker and the listener. One or both of the people who are trying to communicate may give up. This leads to isolation, anger, confusion, and depression.
The first step is for the person with the suspected hearing loss to get a hearing test, or audiologic assessment, to resolve the issue of whether hearing loss is present. The hearing test determines if the loss requires medical management or rehabilitative management. From there, help is on the way to mend the communication bridges.