Context is a Crucial Skill for Hearing Loss

When you have hearing loss, using the context is a crucial skill. Based on where you are, what is happening at the time, and who you are with, you can guess what your conversation partner is saying.

One night I was standing in a hotel lobby with a friend. We had just tried another, nicer, hotel, but there were no vacancies. So we moved on to this hotel—and it wasn’t as nice. I said, wordlessly, so that the reception clerk would not hear, “I wish we were staying at the other hotel.” She said, “What??” I said, “You can’t read lips, can you?” and she said, “Yes I can. But there’s no context.” I thought, there’s tons of context! We’re in a hotel lobby. The context is where we are, where we were before, and what we’re going to do next.

Here’s an example of a high-context sentence: “You stir your coffee with a _____”. If we don’t hear the word “spoon,” we’re still likely to be able to follow that part of the conversation. It’s predictable.

Photo credit:  Monkey Business Images

The good news is, older adults are more skilled at using context than younger adults are. That is, older adults can predict more readily when the context isn’t as clear.

(By the way, LACE auditory training works on this. In the Missing Word task, you hear a sentence and one word is impossible to hear—you have to guess what it is.)

You can try this yourself. (You’ll need a willing partner, too.) Together, brainstorm for many the possible things you could say about a topic. An example might be, “Making Coffee in the Morning.”

Here are some things you might say:

I forgot to plug the coffee maker in! We’re out of coffee. Boy, I really need a cup of coffee. Mmm…coffee smells good. Would you like a cup of coffee?

Come up with a good number of these (10-20). Write each one on a separate sheet of paper. Give all of them to your partner. She will say phrases to you, but with a twist—part way through the sentence, she’ll put her hand over her mouth, turn away, turn on the water faucet, or do something else that renders the rest of the sentence inaudible. Your job is to guess. Yes, guess! Use the context. As you get better at it, she can throw in sentences that were not part of your original list.

How did you do? Do you have any other suggestions for exercises to improve your predicting skills?

  • Photo credit:  © Alan Fortune

    Sandra Vandenhoff

    Dr. Sandra Vandenhoff is an audiologist with hearing loss, founder of HEARa, Hearing Strategies coach, speaker, and Canadian author, who gave her GPS away long before realizing that it was a good brain-boosting move.

1 thought on “Context is a Crucial Skill for Hearing Loss”

  1. Good article. The example reminds me that it’s like navigating your way through a conversation. By the way, I’ll have a large coffee!

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