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U.S. Department of Health and Health Services
Quick Guide to Health Literacy and Older Adults
Illustrative logo for Hearing Impairment chapter
Hearing Impairment

Hearing loss is common to older adults, affecting one in three people older than 60 and half of those older than 85.1 Hearing loss can compromise how a person processes health information, leading to misunderstandings, fatigue, and the need to repeat information.2

What You Can Do

Starter Tips

Limit background noise.

  • Try to find a quiet place to speak with older adults.
  • Close a door if possible to limit noises that compete with your voice.

Speak clearly with more volume.

  • It is important to speak clearly to someone with a hearing loss. Speaking louder can also help, but you do not need to shout.

Optimize face-to-face communication.

  • Sit close to older adults and face them as you speak, to enhance their ability to lip read.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Do not block your mouth with your hand or a clipboard. Do not chew gum or eat while speaking.

Ask older adults with hearing loss to restate instructions and other important information in their own words.

  • Having an older adult restate instructions and important information helps you know you have been heard. Some people with a hearing loss may nod along with you even though they do not hear clearly.
Note: This tip works for everyone, not just people with hearing loss. Consider using it when providing important instructions.

Be sensitive to individual needs.

  • Like visual impairments, hearing loss can vary widely among older adults. Do not assume every person with a hearing loss needs or wants the same kind of assistance.

References for this table: 1,3


You may find the following resources on hearing loss and older adults helpful.

  • The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders offers helpful fact sheets on hearing and seniors, such as Hearing Loss and Older Adults. The fact sheets can be found at
  • The University of Washington Medical Center offers a tip sheet called Communicating With Your Hard-of-Hearing Patient, available online at
    . EXIT Disclaimer


  1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health. Hearing Loss and Older Adults. Available at Accessed July 2007. 
  2. Information included here with the expert guidance of Elias JW, University of California, Davis.
  3. University of Washington Medical Center. Communicating with Your Hard-of-Hearing Patient. Available at EXIT Disclaimer Accessed July 2007. 
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