Intended for healthcare professionals

Practice Practice Pointer

Communicating in a healthcare setting with people who have hearing loss

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 29 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4672

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Anna Middleton, honorary senior research fellow1,
  2. Alagaratnam Niruban, specialist registrar in geriatric medicine2,
  3. Gill Girling, trustee of the Norfolk Deaf Association and lipreading teacher3,
  4. Phyo Kyaw Myint, clinical senior lecturer in ageing and stroke medicine245
  1. 1Institute of Medical Genetics, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF14 4XN, UK
  2. 2Academic Department of Medicine for the Elderly, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich NR4 7UY, UK
  3. 3Norfolk Deaf Association, Norwich NR3 4TL
  4. 4Health and Social Sciences Research Institute, Faculty of Health, School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ
  5. 5Clinical Gerontology Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK
  1. Correspondence to: P K Myint Phyo.K.Myint{at}
  • Accepted 12 August 2010

Many patients with hearing loss find communication in healthcare settings difficult, and this might sometimes affect their care. This article outlines how staff can best communicate with people with hearing loss

In the United Kingdom one in seven of the population (more than six million people aged over 60 and two and a half million aged 60 and under) have a hearing loss.1 Hospital services are used more by older people,2 so many of the patients seen by health professionals have a hearing loss. Staff often do not appropriately adapt the way they communicate with this group.3 4 5

Most people with a hearing loss have either developed the problem in later life (the vast majority) or acquired a loss through, for example, infection or trauma. Nearly all these people communicate with spoken language and may also use hearing aids. A small proportion of people with a hearing loss are congenitally severely or profoundly deaf and are more likely to use sign language. For clarity of terminology, throughout this article we use the term deafness and deaf people to refer in general to hearing loss of all types and degrees and to those who are affected.

Deafness can affect a person’s ability to communicate properly. It alters their interactions with others and may contribute to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and social withdrawal.6 7 8 9 10 11 Deaf people complain that medical professionals frequently lack understanding and empathy.12 Often they feel that health professionals do not appreciate just how stressful it is to engage in a healthcare setting; this problem primarily results from inadvertent barriers that prevent effective communication. Health professionals could benefit from special training in how best to deal with the communication difficulties of deaf patients.5 Indeed the Department of Health in England …

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