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Communication Classes for Couples with Hearing Loss


Terri Ellert, HIS

Terri has been in practice as a Board-Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist for the past 11 years and is a co-founder of the Hearing Centers of Arizona.
Terri Ellert, HIS

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Communication Classes for Couples with Hearing Loss

If it weren’t for everyone else’s sloppy speech, people with hearing loss could communicate just fine! That’s not the truth, of course, but it sure feels like it sometimes. How often have you had a shoddy interaction with a stranger and wished you could teach them better listening and speaking skills?

We likely won’t have that particular wish come true, but we can have some influence on the communication strategies of the people closest to us. When hearing loss affects part or all of a couple deep into their relationship together, it can require an entire overhaul of the established communication patterns. Luckily, communication classes for couples with hearing loss are popping up to address that precise need.


Top of the class

The brainchild of researchers at the University of Arizona’s Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, a class called Oyendo Bien at the Bowman Senior Residences is attempting to reintroduce couples to the art of communicating with one another. Over the course of five weeks, participating couples are coached on learning new ways of interacting in order to account for the hearing loss that’s entered their lives. After all, hearing loss doesn’t only affect the person with the diagnoses, it most often becomes a problem for the entire family.


Finding solutions

But problems are meant to be solved. The creation of the Oyendo Bien classes is a result of a needs assessment that began five years ago. Using interviews and focus groups from the hearing-impaired population in Nogales, the research group found that communications classes were a necessary resource that was lacking in the community.

Since its inception in 2015, more than 100 people have participated in the Oyendo Bien program. Participants report an improved quality of life. Some couples whose conversations had become so difficult and painful that they’d simply ceased all efforts have left the program with a renewed relationship and an emerging dialogue.


The benefit of unforeseen results

Perhaps more striking than simply improving communication strategies, participants have also found unforeseen benefits from the classes. By virtue of participation, they’ve met other seniors with hearing loss who experience the same obstacles as they do. Bonds are formed and support networks created. One of the less talked about complications from hearing loss is the sense of isolation arising out of a difficulty in connecting and socialization. Left unchecked, this isolation often results in depression. The camaraderie that is inherent within the Oyendo Bien classes fulfills this fundamental human need for seniors with hearing loss.

Additionally, those with hearing loss are connected with audiologists and other hearing specialists. These folks can introduce them to hearing solutions, like hearing aids and other assistive devices, that also drastically improve quality of life for the hearing impaired.


Learning how to teach

Participants reported that learning how to teach people about what they need is a paramount skill for those with hearing loss. Disclosing hearing difficulty and then asking for their communication partner to address those needs in conversation is an underrated skill. You can’t expect people to accommodate you if they don’t know how to do it. If your loved ones are trying to guess at the best ways to make your conversations smoother and less stressful, odds are they’ll miss the mark.

However, a person with hearing loss probably knows the ways and methods they respond best to. Instead of trying to cover up hearing loss or muscle through a difficult interaction for fear of appearing “needy,” ask for what you know you need.


Pack your patience

We live in a “now” society. We expect what we want the minute we think we want it. That’s all well and good, but we are humans and not machines. Patience is a skill we need to practice, too. If we’re not calm in a difficult interaction, frustrations can quickly rise. Tempers flare and our “inside voices” get a lot louder.

We must be patient with others while we teach them the new ways they can best communicate with us. And we must also be patient with ourselves as we adjust to a new way of communicating with others. Showing ourselves and each other a bit of grace in a tough moment can mean the difference between shutting down in the face of adversity or climbing over the obstacle together.

Have you experienced changes in your hearing? Have you found that hearing loss has been adversely affecting your relationships? Contact us at Hearing Centers of Arizona to schedule a hearing test and consultation today!


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