Aural Rehab: The Role of the Speaker

In my last blog post, Aural Rehab: Are we getting the job done?, I discussed the challenges faced by audiologists when it comes to the education and counseling aspects of the aural rehab process. I gave a brief overview of our Cut to the Chase counseling program, and introduced the “5 Keys to Communication Success.” Educating our patients about these five simple keys to successful communication will help them to understand a few important points:
• Communication is like a puzzle that requires several pieces to work properly.
• Hearing aids are only one piece of this communication puzzle.
• Involvement of family members, friends, and caregivers is essential.
When patients fully grasp the complexity of communication, and understand that each piece of the puzzle is critical for communication success, they are much more likely to be satisfied with their hearing aids and to comply with our recommendations.
Let’s take a closer look at the first key to communication success: The Speaker. Obviously the speaker and the listener are the two most important keys, as there would not be a communication exchange without them. But the speaker is arguably the most important key as they are responsible for creating a clear message that will be understood by their listener. This is why it is so important to involve family members in the aural rehab process. I’m sure I’m not the only audiologist who has experienced the following scenario:
I just fit Mr. Jones with new hearing aids, verified his fitting, and asked him what he thinks. He smiles and reports that they sound kind of strange, but that my voice seems nice and clear. He then turns to his wife and asks her to say something. Rather than looking at her husband and speaking to him in a normal tone, Mrs. Jones stands, walks to the far side of the office, and (with her back toward him) whispers to her husband, “Can you hear me now?”
Of course, Mr. Jones cannot hear her and, although I may have slightly unpleasant words going through my head for Mrs. Jones, I find this is the perfect time to educate her about her essential role as the speaker. I teach my patients to use their senses as a reminder about their critical role in the communication process.

The first sense is vision. The listener must be able to see the speaker’s face. This means that the speaker will often have to go to the listener before they begin speaking. Other times, the speaker will need to call to the listener, and wait for the listener to come to them before they begin speaking. This eliminates the difficulties associated with speaking from another room, or with their back toward the listener. Sometimes, however, this is not enough. That’s when we turn to the sense of touch.

When the speaker moves close enough to the listener that they can actually reach out and touch them, the speaker and the listener are perfectly situated for a perfect communication exchange. Sometimes the listener is so intent on a television program that they simply don’t hear the speaker calling to them. Rather than getting angry and yelling, I teach my patients to gently touch the listener on the arm to get their attention, and their message will then be received successfully.
Of course, we also teach the family members and caregivers to speak clearly and not to over-exaggerate their words. We encourage them to alert the listener to changes in topic, and to check-in frequently to make sure they are being understood. Most importantly, we try to impress upon the speakers that they are half of the equation when it comes to communication. We let them know that they can either be half of the problem, or half of the solution. This may seem harsh, but the importance should not be understated if we are to provide our patients with complete communication solutions! Next month we’ll focus on the other half of that equation: The Listener.

Dr. Dusty Ann Jessen, AuDis a practicing audiologist in a busy ENT clinic in Littleton, Colo. She is the founder of Cut to the Chase Communication, LLC, a company dedicated to providing “fun, easy, and effective” counseling tools for busy hearing care professionals. She is also the author of Frustrated by Hearing Loss? 5 Keys to Communication Success. Dr. Jessen can be contacted at