Using Your Eyes to Hear Better

June is cataract awareness month. Did you know there are currently more than 24 million Americans age 40 and older who have cataracts, according to the Vision Problems in the U.S. report from Prevent Blindness America? But besides the obvious vision difficulties cataracts cause including blurred vision, double vision, and in the worse case scenario blindness, cataracts can have an indirect impact on how well you hear and understand speech.

Vision plays an integral role in supplementing hearing through speech reading. When a listener is not hearing or understanding conversation, seeing the speaker’s face can help a listener understand speech better. When hearing is compromised, the listener is often times left to guess at what is being said. Although the majority of people who use speechreading are hearing impaired, people with excellent hearing will use visual cues, including speechreading to understand and hear better in a noisy environment.

Speechreading is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and honed. Some people are naturally better at it than others. Speechreading is used by people with hearing loss to pick up additional clues from spoken content that are missed as a result of the hearing loss. The term lip–reading is commonly used, but since speakers use the throat, cheeks, tongue, and facial expressions to communicate, the term speechreading is more accurate.

About 30% of speech is visible to a speechreader; this can be crucial to understanding a conversation or concept. To many people with hearing loss, words such as van, sand, and than, may all sound alike. (Try them and look in a mirror!) You can see that in speechreading, the first consonants of each of these words look extremely different!

People who lose their hearing gradually through adulthood may unconsciously teach themselves to speechread over time. The most successful speechreaders have a good understanding of the language being spoken, and the topic being discussed.

Factors that help the speechreader include:

  • Good lighting. The light must shine on the speakers face.
  • Minimal body movement from the speaker to avoid distracti
  • Minimal interfering background noise so hearing can be optimized.
  • Clear articulate speech
  • Nothing in the mouth while speaking.
  • Slower rate of speech
  • Nothing covering the mouth

And don’t forget that speechreading can be very tiring. It is a lot of work to listen with your eyes, and can be very exhausting. Also, if one is tired, upset or unable to concentrate, speechreading abilities are lowered.

So this June be sure to get those eyes checked, as cataracts impact more then just your vision.