Become a (Hearing) Environmentalist

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Communication is a complex puzzle that requires all pieces to be properly placed. It is critical for audiologists to address all pieces of that puzzle during the aural rehabilitation process to ensure a successful outcome for the patient. A comprehensive counseling protocol should thoroughly address the following five keys to communication success:

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My previous blogs focused on the roles of the speaker and the listener in a communication exchange. Today we’ll address the third key to communication success: environment. No, I’m not talking about the trees and the birds! When it comes to communication, environmental modifications often have the biggest impact, yet they are often overlooked. Let’s take a look at one of the most difficult listening situations for people with hearing loss, and how environmental modifications can reduce potential communication challenges.

The hastily-educated patient:

Mr. Jones and his wife are looking forward to dinner at their favorite restaurant to celebrate their anniversary. After a busy day, they rush out of the house at 5:30 p.m., hoping they won’t have to wait too long for a table. They are both starving, so they accept the first-available table, which happens to be in the middle of the restaurant and close to the kitchen. Mr. Jones is still adapting to his new hearing aids and feels overwhelmed by all of the noise. They are surrounded by families with loud children, clanking dishes, and noises from the kitchen. He and his wife can hardly hear each other above all the noise and feel frustrated that they weren’t able to fully enjoy their anniversary dinner. They are both disappointed that his new hearing aids did not perform better in this situation.

The well-educated patient:

Mr. Jones and his wife are looking forward to dinner at their favorite restaurant to celebrate their anniversary. They make a 4:00pm reservation and request a corner booth with good lighting. When they arrive for dinner, they are pleased to find that they nearly have the restaurant to themselves. They are seated immediately, served quickly, and enjoy reminiscing about the past year over a pleasant early dinner. Mr. Jones is pleased that his new hearing aids made it easier to hear his wife’s voice.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which scenario will result in a more satisfied patient outcome. Determine which situations are most challenging for your patients, and help them to develop an “environmental modification” plan for those specific situations. These plans typically incorporate some version of the following two elements:

1. Reducing background noise
2. Improving visibility (ex. lighting, proximity, orientation)

It is our professional responsibility to make sure that every patient is educated and equipped with tools and strategies that address all pieces of the communication puzzle. They must understand that environmental modifications are just as important as the hearing aids. While thorough patient education may take a bit longer in the beginning, it almost always saves valuable clinic time in the end. The resulting patient success and satisfaction certainly make it time well-spent.

 

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 info@CutToTheChaseCommunication.com.