It's easy to take the sense of sound for granted. But for many people, hearing becomes more difficult with age. By the time a person is 75 years old, they have nearly a 50% chance of suffering from some degree of hearing loss. For some people, the loss is relatively mild and has only a small impact on their life. Others, though, may develop severe hearing loss or even deafness. This can have a devastating impact on their quality of life.
There are many different things that cause hearing loss. Sometimes people lose their hearing because a buildup of impacted ear wax prevents sound from traveling through their ear. This can usually be fixed by removing the wax. Other causes of hearing loss include ear infections, damage to the hair cells in the ear, and damage to the eardrum. These types of damage are typically permanent. Long-term hearing damage can also be caused by chronic health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as by certain types of medications.
Some hearing loss can be attributed to noise exposure. People can protect themselves to a degree by wearing ear protection in very loud environments. However, most of the damage has already been done by the time a person reaches their senior years — and often, hearing loss is related to age and not to noise exposure anyway. Thus, it's important for seniors, their families, and their caregivers to learn how to accept and cope with hearing loss in a healthy way.
10 Caregiver Tips for Helping People Cope with Hearing Loss
These tips on how to cope with hearing loss can help people continue living full, rich lives — even with diminished hearing.
1. Recognize the signs of hearing loss.
The first step in helping a senior cope with hearing loss is recognizing that they're having trouble hearing in the first place. Many try to hide their hearing loss because they feel awkward or ashamed about it. In the long run, though, this does nothing to help solve the problem. Common signs of hearing loss include:
Asking people to repeat themselves frequently in conversation
Struggling to follow telephone conversations
Frequently misunderstanding what people say
Playing TVs and radios too loudly
Struggling more to understand people in noisy environments than quiet ones
Acting difficult or uncooperative
Avoiding social activities
2. Encourage clients to get hearing aids, if possible.
For a senior whose world is shrinking due to hearing loss, hearing aids can make an enormous difference. Sometimes making that appointment takes some encouragement, though. Some people are reluctant to get hearing aids because they're embarrassed about wearing them in public, while others may have trouble affording assistive hearing technology. Home care services can help by reviewing insurance policies with clients, helping them make any necessary appointments, and providing transportation to appointments.
3. Face clients directly when talking to them.
Many people with hearing loss rely on lip-reading to compensate. Ensure that clients can always see your mouth moving when you're talking to them. Try not to talk facing away from them or speak to them from a different room.
4. Eliminate background noise whenever possible.
Background noise — such as TVs, radios, other people talking, and even traffic — can all make it harder for people with hearing loss to follow a conversation. Try to find a quiet place to talk with clients. Turn off electronics making noise in the background, or turn them down until the conversation is over.
5. Speak loudly and clearly.
A little extra volume can really help when talking to a person with hearing loss. Just make sure not to shout. Speak at a normal pace — there's no need to talk more slowly than usual.
6. Use hand gestures and facial expressions.
Using hand gestures and facial expressions can help "fill in the gaps" if a client with hearing loss doesn't catch a word or two. However, be careful not to overdo it and still incorporate other ways of helping your client hear you clearly, such as speaking loudly while facing them.
7. Rephrase messages if the client has trouble understanding them.
Some people with hearing loss struggle to hear certain sounds, like consonants. If a client doesn't seem to be understanding something, the problem may lie in the way the words sound. Try to find a different way to express the same idea.
8. Be patient.
It can be easy to feel frustrated with a client when communication is a struggle. This is especially true when the client seems defensive or uncooperative. But it's important to remember that the client isn't being difficult on purpose. They are struggling with a health problem that isn't their fault, and they may be dealing with feelings of embarrassment, helplessness, or anger. When things get difficult, take a deep breath and keep a cool head — it will mean a lot to the client.
9. Be emotionally supportive.
Learning how to cope with hearing loss is difficult, even for resilient seniors. Many people go through a grieving process for their lost hearing. Clients often need a shoulder to lean on during this time. Reassure clients that it's okay to feel down about their hearing loss, but remind them that there are still many aspects of life they can enjoy.
10. Be respectful.
Keep in mind that hearing loss doesn't affect a person's mental capacity. A client might have trouble following conversations, but that doesn't mean they don't understand — they simply can't hear. Be careful not to "dumb down" conversations with clients who have hearing loss. Talk to them like an adult — they will appreciate it.
Home Care Services for Hearing Loss
Home care services can be a big help to seniors with hearing loss, and it's very important for home caregivers to understand how to help these clients best. Keep these caregiver tips in mind next time you interact with a client who has difficulty hearing. Family members and friends of people with hearing loss can also put these tips to use.