10 Tips For Airline Staff For Better Communication With Hard of Hearing Customers

February 28, 2018.  When you are hard of hearing, noise is not your friend.  People assume you may not hear a particular noise.  That’s not necessarily true.  We may hear noises, but not be able to distinguish BETWEEN different noises, recognize WHAT the noise is, or understand what DIRECTION a noise is coming from.    Many noises are amplified if your hearing is not perfect.  Other sounds are not heard at all, depending on the frequency level of the sound.  And when there are many competing noises, they all tend to get jumbled together and we’re lost.  If you try and talk to us, we have no idea what you are saying, assuming we know you are talking to us in the first place.  Background music, TV blaring in the background, people talking to others, and traffic zipping by…. it’s all noise.  If you’re like me, all you want to do is tune it out.  Unfortunately, most of the time that’s impossible.

Airports are one of the noisiest places we have to face.  In addition to all the other noises you get in a busy place, you have the loudspeaker announcements, and machines.  And here you are, Mr. or Ms. Hard of Hearing, hoping to have a good flight to your destination, and hoping that you can hear and understand anyone who speaks to you.  Even when you speak up and say that you are hard of hearing, it can be a challenge.

The Charlottetown Airport Authority is trying to make a stressful experience more manageable by giving awareness sessions to its staff.  On February 27, 2018, Nancy MacPhee, Debra Leuty, and Annie Lee MacDonald were invited to give a seminar to outline best practices for transportation service providers who deal with customers who have a hearing loss of any kind.

17 participants were given an introduction to the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) and how it can help in providing information and awareness concerning hard of hearing issues.  All were given a copy of our Chapter’s booklet, “Pardon Me, What Did You Say?”, and had a chance to ask questions.

IMG_2063 Feb 27 2018 Airport HOH presentation

Annie Lee MacDonald, centre left, and Nancy MacPhee, centre right, with an engaged group of participants from the Charlottetown Airport Authority.

Nancy MacPhee gave a presentation on 10 tips for better communication, and all participants received a copy of these tips.  The tips were compiled for airline staff by Nancy MacPhee and Brenda Porter, based on information from past CHHA workshops and conventions, and the National Speechreading Program.

The 10 Tips For Better Communication with the Hard of Hearing if you work in the Transportation Sector are:

  1. Make sure that you have the customer’s attention when conversing with him or her. (ie, a gentle tap on the shoulder or arm.}
  2. Identify who you are. (Display a name badge or airport ID)
  3. Look directly at the customer and be sure that your face can be seen clearly. (Be aware of lighting, don’t have any objects in your mouth, and don’t place your hands over your mouth. Men, please note that facial hair can hide lip movement.)
  4. Ask the customer what his or her preferred method of communication is, such as whether it would be helpful to communicate by writing (cell phones, tablets and computers may also be options. It’s always good to have a small notebook and pen available.) Also ask for tips, from the customer, on how to improve communication.
  5. Speak clearly in a normal tone of voice and at a moderate pace. Do not exaggerate speech and do not shout. Try not to use contractions.  For example, “can’t” and “can” sound the same to a person who is hard of hearing.
  6. If you are not understood, do not keep repeating the same words, try rephrasing the information.
  7. Use facial expressions and gestures to help convey your meaning.
  8. If the customer is deaf and uses a sign language interpreter, always speak directly to the customer rather than the interpreter. Talk TO the customer, not about the customer.
  9. Remain positive, patient, and relaxed.
  10. Any matters discussed that are personal (such as disability related needs or medical information) should be done as privately as possible to avoid the chance of being overheard by other customers.

The presentation was positively received.  Debra Leuty noted that “everyone seemed keenly interested in how to better provide this service to their customers. There were nods and looks of understanding from each of them. A few people at the back of the room asked me questions.  One gentleman asked about the TDD phone, and others were ‎curious about my lip reading. One lady got my attention via the gentlemen, and mouthed ‘thank you’, and I replied.”

Kudos to the Charlottetown Airport Authority for requesting this awareness training, and a big thank you goes out to our three CHHA PEI volunteers who willingly provided this seminar.

When serving customers who have disabilities, transportation service providers should remember to be accommodating, polite and considerate of their customers’ dignity, individuality, and desire for independence.

Do you have a transportation related anecdote or tip to share?  Do you have a story or tip about hearing loss issues that are important to you? Comments can be made on this blog, or you can email us at hearpei@gmail.com.

Next Chapter meeting: Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at North Tryon Presbyterian Church

© Daria Valkenburg





The Important Role Your Friends and Family Play

February 12, 2018.  Very few of us who are hard of hearing are completely on our own.  We have family, friends, and coworkers who help us understand what is being said.  There are times of frustration for them as well when we either don’t hear what is being said or misunderstand what is being said.

We’ve all been in the situation of saying “What did you say?”, “Pardon me?  I didn’t catch that” and hoped that whoever was trying to communicate with us would help us out, and not say the dreaded phrase “Never mind, it wasn’t important”.   Or, even worse, sigh in resignation and roll their eyes.  Patience and a sense of humour is important in these relationships!

How many of you have spouses (it’s usually the spouses!) who complain “the TV is too loud”. I only know when my husband, who seems to have the hearing of a bat, is watching TV if I happen to be in the same room.  Otherwise, it’s very rare for me to hear the sound.  Poor man doesn’t get the same experience if I watch a program!

When I told my husband about this blog entry, he said to make sure I mentioned the number of times he’s made a remark and I’ve misunderstood or misinterpreted what he said.  Easily done, with his quiet voice, is my defence!

The other day I was at an annual art class for snowbirds and had to sit right up front so I could hear the instructor.  The same instructor has seen me for several years and remembered that I was hard of hearing.  She made sure to look at me (and therefore the rest of the group) directly when she gave her instructions, rather than speaking with her back to us while she demonstrated what we were supposed to do.  What a gift that simple courtesy was!  No need for me to ask what she said!  No confusion about what I needed to do!

The supportive role that our friends and families play can’t be overstated.  One man, whose 81 year old wife lost her hearing 45 years earlier during pregnancy, commented on his frustration….AFTER she had received a cochlear implant and could hear again.  He noted that the partner of anyone with hearing loss would understand that during their long marriage of 58 years there had been plenty of frustrations for both because his wife couldn’t hear him. “It causes so many problems,” he said. “Misunderstandings and arguments.”   (Read the article at http://www.pnj.com/story/news/local/pensacola/2018/01/27/alabama-woman-receives-first-cochlear-implant-baptist-hospital-pensacola/1069564001/)

A recent MED-EL blog entry addressed the issue of supportive partners, outlining ‘8 qualities that your rehabilitative partner should have’ following hearing implant surgery. (Read the blog entry at https://blog.medel.com/8-qualities-that-your-perfect-rehabilitation-partner-should-have/)

What do you think are your top ten qualities for a supportive family member or friend? Do you have a story or tip about hearing loss issues that are important to you? Comments can be made on this blog, or you can email us at hearpei@gmail.com.

Next Chapter meeting: Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at North Tryon Presbyterian Church

© Daria Valkenburg


Does Hearing Loss Cause Dementia?

February 8, 2018.  Recently, the Globe and Mail ran an article on a possible link between hearing loss and dementia (See https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health-advisor/what-we-know-about-the-link-between-hearing-loss-and-dementia/article37761654/). The article was based on a 2011 paper “Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia” detailing the outcome of a 15 year study of 639 adults at John Hopkins University.  When the study began, 25% of the participants had hearing loss.  When the study ended, those with the severest hearing loss seemed to have the greater incidence of dementia.

Ever since the initial report came out, a link between hearing loss and dementia has been bandied about. But how valid is this potential link? Many of us have had hearing loss for decades and do not have any symptoms of dementia.  Many of us know people who do not have hearing loss, but do have dementia.  Maybe there is more to the story?

A few years ago, my husband and I attended a presentation on dementia from a Boston-based researcher specializing in the subject. Several people in the audience either had Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, or were family members of those with dementia, while the rest were like us, hoping to learn how to avoid dementia. People asked if doing crosswords and Sudoku would help.  Not really, we learned.  What about speaking several languages?  Not really.  The two most common tips to avoid dementia that had been discussed for years were now shot down.

So what would help?  The researcher discussed the link between genetics and dementia – if you have a family history of dementia, you may be more susceptible.  He then discussed how environment and chemicals can play a role.  Diet is a factor and he suggested that sugar is not our best friend. Exercise is also important as a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor.   High blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes are additional risk factors.

He then said that although these factors mentioned play a part, there are two very important preventative measures that can overcome many of the risk factors mentioned above.  These two preventative measures are:

  1. Have an active social life.
  2. Always learn something new

That was it.  Two key preventative measures: Avoid social isolation and stretch your mind by keeping it actively learning something new.  Both of these force the brain to rewire itself and develop new pathways, which in turns keeps us mentally alert.

So what did the John Hopkins study say?  (Read the report: Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia nihms-336097) In the paper’s introduction it noted that ongoing studies have focused on the risk factors for prevention, based “on the assumption that dementia is easier to prevent than to reverse.  Candidate factors include low involvement in leisure activities and social interactions, sedentary state, diabetes, and hypertension.  Some researchers have also suggested that hearing loss, by reducing stimulatory input and hampering social interaction, may be associated with dementia.”  In other words, are social isolation and not keeping the brain active factors?

The study then discussed possible incorrect diagnoses and explained why the researchers in the study had eliminated them.  The incorrect diagnoses included:

  • Over-diagnosis of dementia in individuals affected by hearing loss
  • Over-diagnosis of hearing loss in individuals with cognitive impairment at baseline (ie, when the study began)

The study looked at two other factors that could have affected their results, and explained that they did not believe these were factors in the study results.  These factors were:

  • Both hearing loss and progressive cognitive impairment are caused by a common neuropathologic process.  In other words, they looked at whether hearing loss and dementia were caused by the same condition.
  • The likelihood that another neurobiological process such as vascular disease or factors related to family history could cause both hearing loss and dementia.  In other words, could another condition cause both hearing loss and dementia?  Their study could not exclude this factor, but they noted that “risk factors for vascular disease such as diabetes, smoking, and hypertension were adjusted for in our models.”

The researchers then noted that “hearing loss may be causally related to dementia, possibly through exhaustion of cognitive reserve, social isolation, environmental deafferentation, or a combination of these pathways.”  Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?  What do they mean?

In explaining cognitive reserve, they noted that when it’s hard to hear due to hearing loss, “greater cognitive resources” (ie brain power) “are dedicated to auditory perceptual processing (ie figuring out what someone said) “to the detriment of other cognitive processes such as working memory.”  So, basically they are saying that your brain’s memory capacity is similar to a computer’s temporary memory.  If you’ve ever had to shut down your computer and restart it to get it working properly again, then you can understand what is happening with your own brain power.  It gets overloaded and tired and needs a rest to get going again.  You may forget things or get confused because your brain’s cognitive resources are overworked.  Normally, this is temporary, and once you have given your mind a chance to rest with quiet time, you will be fine.

Environmental deafferentation (the elimination of sensory nerve fibres) is a technical way of saying that something like this can happen:  When someone speaks to you, they assume you can hear everything you are saying. But those of us with hearing loss know that we sometimes find it hard to hear exactly what is being said, and we guess what the missing word or phrase is.  If we guess wrong, we give the wrong response.

The study goes on to suggest that “this reallocation of neural resources to auditory processing could deplete the cognitive reserve available to other cognitive processes and possibly lead to the earlier clinical expression of dementia neuropathology.”  So make sure you rest!

Next the researchers explain that “communication impairments caused by hearing loss can also lead to social isolation in older adults and studies have demonstrated associations between poor social networks and dementia.”  The message:  social isolation is bad.  “Individuals who remain engaged in leisure activities have a lower risk of dementia.”

The researchers briefly discuss studies in mice in which they found that “environmental enrichment (possibly analogous in humans to having access to auditory and environmental stimuli) can reduce β-amyloid levels.” β-amyloid is the protein that is believed to cause dementia.

The study then concludes with the statement that “self-reported hearing aid use was not associated with a significant reduction in dementia risk.”  So, while a hearing aid may help reduce your brain’s cognitive load in hearing what is being said, it will not reduce the risk of dementia.  For that you need to turn to the same key factors as with everyone else – keep active socially and keep stimulating your mind.

The researchers in the study note that “ongoing research is needed as to whether hearing advices and rehabilitative strategies could have an effect on cognitive decline and dementia.” Hmmm… why wait?  We already have a blueprint for some preventative strategies.  So go out for dinner and enjoy socializing with your friends, eat well, make sure you get some physical exercise, and stimulate your mind by learning something new.

We’d like to have your tips and strategies for keeping your mind active and in good working order, even though you have a hearing loss.  As for me, I keep very active socially and every year I tackle a new project to keep those brain cells stretching.  Over the years I’ve learned Latin to be able to read family history records, taken art lessons, last year it was blog writing.  This year?  I’m still pondering.  Maybe I need to have a restful Caribbean beach vacation to get those “cognitive resources” in good working order again!

Next Chapter meeting: Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at North Tryon Presbyterian Church

Do you have a story or tip about hearing loss issues that are important to you? Comments can be made on this blog, or you can email us at hearpei@gmail.com.

© Daria Valkenburg