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Improve Family Communication by Treating Hearing Loss


Improve Family Communication by Treating Hearing Loss

Communication is a two-way street. Not only must we get across what we intend to communicate, but—much more importantly—we have to listen to others in order to understand what they mean to convey. When communication is a two-way channel bouncing back and forth between two people, we take for granted how easy it can be. One person might make a comment or ask a question, and the other doesn’t even think about the act of listening; it just happens.

Challenges to good communication still exist, but the fundamental mechanics are in place. Alas, when a family member suffers from hearing loss, communication breaks down on a basic level. Social science and, specifically, the social theory of phenomenology have given us tools to understand how communication takes place. Hearing loss intervenes in the process to break the flow from one person to another.

The Longue Durée

Alfred Schütz was a prominent phenomenologist of the 21st Century, offering his theories and insights into how we understand our world and experiences. Among his many descriptions is that of the stream of consciousness, or the longue durée in French. This flow of time and thought is a connected series of sensory stimuli and accompanying thoughts. Perhaps right now you are sitting at your computer or phone reading this article. Take a moment to look away from the screen and take stock of all the sensory inputs coming your way.

You may see objects, light and dark, near and far. You may smell otherwise unnoticeable scents when given the opportunity to pay attention. The feeling of the chair against your body or your clothing against your skin are nearly always experienced. Perhaps a lingering taste of your last meal remains in your mouth. In addition to the range of sensory experiences each of you has, each person fits somewhere on a continuum of hearing abilities. Many, but of course not all, young children have the best hearing. As we age and experience noisy lives, our hearing deteriorates. Although we seldom bring our attention to our sensory environments, we are surrounded by a sensorium throughout our lives.

Meaning and Understanding

Where phenomenology adds to our understanding is at the point of meaningful understanding. These sensory stimuli are associated with meanings. Some are profound, such as the powerful feeling of nostalgia when you smell fresh bread from the same recipe your grandmother used. Others are everyday and unnoticeable, such as the understanding that you will not fall to the ground when you feel the pressure of a chair against your skin. These associations between sensory stimuli and meanings form an ongoing chain of conscious and unconscious thought in our minds, orienting us to our surroundings.


Things become even more complicated when other people become part of the sensory inputs we encounter. When a friend waves hello from across a room, we know what that means as a form of communication. Similarly, when someone we love gives a tight squeeze it can communicate even more than words. And yet, the most common form of communication is speech. The words we hear form the basis of shared understanding. When we communicate, we engage in a shared stream of consciousness, or longue durée, speaking and listening to syllables, words, and phrases that bounce back and forth between us. It is quite easy to misunderstand this complex web of language, even when we can hear one another clearly. And yet, just imagine the difficulties that come up when we cannot adequately hear the words being spoken by others.

Hearing One Another

Of the many barriers to good communication, hearing loss can be one of the most basic and profound. The two-way feedback loop of speech and understanding is broken by the basic inability to make out what another person has to say. Of course, there are ways around this problem, especially for those with profound hearing loss or impairment.

And yet, too many of us continue to suffer with untreated hearing loss. A cornerstone of good communication within our families is the ability to actively listen to one another. Willingness to use assistive technology can bridge the already-complicated gap between the words we hear from our families and what we take them to mean within our own minds.

To seek treatment for hearing loss, contact us at Hearing Centers of Arizona. We provide comprehensive hearing tests and hearing aid fittings.

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