In this short blog, Macauly Gatenby RVN, member of the DIWP (Diversity, Inclusion and Widening Participation working group) and current student council member of the BVNA outlines importance of communication and delves into types of hearing loss and how we can all adapt to support colleagues and beyond.

We communicate verbally and non-verbally every single day, but when people find out someone has hearing loss or is deaf, they can sometimes go into fight or flight mode, which shouldn’t be the case!

In the UK, as of 2023 there are an estimated 12 million individuals living with a variable degree of hearing loss, all levels can make communication difficult if the right support isn’t provided. Hearing loss can be caused by many things such as but not limited to; loud noise exposure, ototoxic drugs used to treat serious illnesses, to genetics or ear conditions. I have congenital conductive hearing loss, however hearing loss can occur naturally as part of the aging process, with around 42% of people over the age of 50 being affected.

In the UK hearing specialists categorise hearing loss in four different levels; mild, moderate, severe and profound. However mild and moderate categorisation can sometimes be misleading as it does not reflect the impact it has on the individual.

Mild hearing loss often makes it difficult to follow speech, especially when placed in noisy areas or for extended periods of time, such as a busy prep area in a veterinary clinic. Because of this, quieter discussions can be missed or difficult. Those with mild hearing loss may or may not use hearing aids. Moderate hearing loss can cause people to mishear words and similar to mild hearing loss, can lead to individuals struggling to follow discussions. Those with moderate hearing loss will be more likely to be wearing hearing aids. Severe hearing loss makes it difficult to hear speech, even without much background noise occurring. Individuals with this degree of hearing loss will more likely use hearing aids, assistive listening devices and will lipread. Profound hearing loss means that even though the individual uses hearing aids, this will not help with hearing speech, but will support identifying sound direction. Those who are profoundly deaf will use hearing aids, lipread, assistive listening devices and communication support, with some people communicating through sign language.

Hearing loss occurs when sound signals are interrupted in the hearing system, and therefore do not reach the brain. In addition to different levels of hearing loss there can also be different types. The two main types of hearing loss are sensorineural and conductive and it’s possible to have a combination of both (known as mixed). Sensorineural hearing loss is the result of damage to the hair cells within the inner ear, damage to the hearing nerve, or a combination. Although permanent it can be supported through using hearing aids. Conductive hearing loss on the other hand is caused when there is a blockage such as ear wax, preventing sound from passing from the outer ear to the inner ear. This can be temporary or permanent and is usually caused by ear problems such as perforated eardrum.

Although brief, I hope this blog provides some insight to readers, as it’s beneficial to understand types and degrees of hearing loss so this knowledge can better support your communication tactics. It is important to be mindful that what may work for one person may not necessarily work for another. Similar to the way we care for patients, we should be mindful of each individual’s needs and requirements!

When communicating with someone that has hearing loss or is deaf it is always better to face them, and if possible, without a face mask (despite the effects of Covid-19 still lingering). This allows the individual to be able to lipread effectively, and speaking from personal experience this is a method I heavily rely on and appreciate when I can use lipreading as a main communication tool. Other ways to help an individual who lipreads can be by speaking in a normal manner and is not exaggerating any lip movements. It’s also important to get that the person’s attention before starting to speak. Additionally, if they ask you to repeat something, do so or change vocabulary so it’s easier to understand and try to reduce background noise where possible. Another way to communicate could be to write things down. I like to use my mobile phone to communicate, even though I am the one with the hearing loss, it can sometimes prompt someone to naturally write something down in a way that doesn’t seem like they are trying to be rude or condescending.

Finally, I hope this blog prompts you to consider different ways you can communicate with those that are hard of hearing or deaf, and to possibly be more open in asking someone what they prefer. You can consider educating your peers on modifying their communication rather than shying away or feeling nervous when communicating with someone with any degree of hearing loss or deafness. You can also help create some understanding that hearing loss and deafness is very much human-specific and therefore will always require varying communication methods!

Lacey Pitcher RVN and Macauly Gatenby RVN, members of the DIWP (Diversity, Inclusion and widening participation working group) have collaboratively created these easy-to-understand infographics to support equity through guiding people how to enable closed captions. Click here to access them:

How to add closed captions to zoom.pdf

Closed caption teams and tips.pdf

How to add closed captions to zoom rooms.pdf