Tips for teaching patients with hearing loss

Learn to recognize common signs

Hearing always should be assessed, because hearing difficulty is a barrier to education. To assess for hearing loss, simply ask learners if they have trouble hearing, advises Fran London, MS, RN, health education specialist at The Emily Center at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Also, ask learners if they wear a hearing aid or if people seem to be mumbling or don’t speak clearly.

Signs of hearing loss can be assessed by observation as well, says London. She suggests learners look for the following signs that could signal hearing loss:

• The patient prefers the volume on the TV or radio louder than others.

• The patient consistently asks the speaker to repeat information.

• The patient has difficulty following the conversation and understanding words.

• The patient avoids using the telephone.

• The patient gives answers that are unrelated to the questions posed.

• The patient doesn’t seem to hear people speak unless they are looking at the speaker.

Have plenty of resources available to teach patients who are hard of hearing, says Allison M. Reid, MS, RNC, an educator at St. Francis Hospital and Health Center in Blue Island, IL. St. Francis has picture boards that educators can point to, as well as slates available to write on. In addition, listening devices and telephone amplifiers are available from the speech pathology department. If the person is completely deaf and knows sign language, an interpreter is contacted.

Other visual tools that can aid in teaching the hearing impaired include posters, models, videotapes, and written materials. "The learner may be able to use your stethoscope to hear better. Put the bell near the source of the sound," adds London.

When teaching patients who have difficulty hearing, select a quiet area or shut the door. If the learner is wearing a hearing aid, make sure the battery works, then sit or stand at the same level as the learner and within four feet, says London. If the learner has a good ear, sit within three to six feet of it.

Educators should face the learner and make sure their mouth is never covered with their hand. They should speak slowly, in short, clear sentences in their normal voice or in a slightly lower pitch without dropping their voice at the end of the sentence.

Have the patient frequently repeat or demonstrate what was taught, says Reid. That’s the best way to make sure a patient who is hard of hearing has understood the lesson. "We always identify someone who is hard of hearing with a placket in their room so staff will know to make the necessary adjustments in their teaching."