Caring for someone with hearing loss can be a challenging and scary venture into the unknown. A caregiver worries about the safety of their loved one no matter what, but knowing the way they live in the world is compromised can put anyone on edge even more. Dealing with hearing loss from the onset can prevent larger concerns and disputes in the future. This unfortunate symptom of aging is one that has highs and lows, literally and figuratively.
Signs of hearing loss
Many loved ones will not tell their caregiver of an onset of hearing loss, for fear of losing independence. Instead, they become isolated, depressed, angry, lonely, frustrated and even physically ill. Some telltale signs are when a loved one withdraws from their normal social activities, refuses to attend family and friend gatherings, or doesn’t answer the phone anymore, saying they were busy or unavailable. Any avoidance of conversation is cause for concern.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division, offers these behaviors which may signal a struggle to hear properly.
A loved one may:
- Have trouble distinguishing between words that sound alike
- Offer responses to questions that do not make sense
- Have a hard time understanding women and children
- Turns head to one side, or cup an ear to hear better
- Respond often with a smile and nod, but offer no further comments
- Have difficulty with conversation while riding in a vehicle
- Withdraw from group discussions and gatherings
- Not hear the phone or doorbell
- Have the volume on a TV or radio set extremely loud.
Some physical symptoms that may occur with hearing loss include a ringing, roaring, hissing or buzzing in the ear, also known as tinnitus; ear pain, itching or irritation; fluid or pus leaking from the ear; and vertigo. Caregivers can keep a watchful eye on their loved one for these behaviors and physical symptoms.
If a caregiver suspects a hearing loss, it is important to have it checked soon, in order to prevent problems down the road. A loved one might resist, but this is where the “caregiver persistence” and tough love come in.
The National Family Caregivers Alliance (NFCA) explains how to handle some common objections a loved one may raise to having their hearing checked.
The first common objection is that the “other people simply aren’t talking loud enough”. In the ears of a person with hearing loss, everyone is mumbling. A caregiver can tell their loved one that it may be a simple medical problem such as wax buildup and an exam can rule out certain medical concerns and treat those conditions.
Second, many seniors are concerned with spending money. They may say, “It would cost too much to get a hearing aid!” The commitment associated with hearing aids or other devices is looked at as permanent and thus, a large cost. A caregiver must realize that while this is true, a quality of life has its own cost. Both caregiver and loved one must weigh their options once a hearing loss is diagnosed.
And third, people of all ages are worried about appearing “old”. A hearing aid only increases that perception in many minds. The NFCA advises caregivers to remind a loved one that continually asking people to repeat themselves and being left out of conversation can be a more visible indicator of age than a hearing aid. Also, with today’s technology, hearing aids are less imposing and noticeable than ever before.
If a caregiver is prepared to thwart excuses with a little preparation before, a loved one will feel that their caregiver is competent, educated and safe to care for them. It will instill a confidence in a loved one when a caregiver is knowledgeable and organized.
There are many ways to protect a loved one’s hearing and make living with the condition as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
First, don’t shout!
Many caregivers may think that talking louder and slower is helpful, but in actuality, it distorts the conversation even more for a person with hearing loss. Professionals suggest speaking at a normal speed and tone, with small modifications, is best.
Background noise is a huge barrier for loved ones with hearing loss.
When possible, try to eliminate these distractions as much as possible. If at home and having a conversation, turn off the TV or radio, even fan or other electric device. Shut windows if traffic noise is an issue.
After the noise is limited and a conversation can occur, talking face-to-face is best.
A group setting may be hard for a person with hearing loss to catch multiple conversations.
In addition to these talking tips, there is some physical maintenance which can help maintain a loved one’s hearing. A caregiver can start by scheduling a yearly physical. Many times caregivers are running a loved one to the doctor for a variety of ailments. However, a yearly physical is one appointment not to be overlooked. This is the best way to detect and also prevent many medical problems from occurring.
Just as a person makes a yearly trip to the eye doctor and needs a prescription to buy new glasses, every person in their senior years should have their ears checked as well. A hearing test will reveal what a loved one may have been “missing” and not even known.
Exercise and eating a healthy diet are as important to ear health as to heart health. A healthy lifestyle leads to increased focus and response in all areas of life, including hearing.
The body functions as a whole, so nourishing it properly will reap benefits indefinitely. A caregiver should encourage a loved one to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
A caregiver must be an advocate for their loved one with hearing loss. The first step is always education. Know the signs of hearing loss, and steps to take following a diagnosis. Learn about the many technological advances that can help a loved one live a fulfilling life despite the challenges.
Many public places including hotels, churches, museums, auditoriums, theaters, etc. provide assistive technology for the hearing impaired. When it’s available, make sure a loved one uses it. And if not available, explain to the staff the importance of these devices. A little planning ahead can make for a fun trip on the town and eliminate a loved one feeling left out.
By learning the best ways to communicate, a caregiver can pass along these tips to other family members and friends. Simple strategies can increase communication, lessen stress and promote an enjoyable time for all involved.
Communication is always a two-way street. Whether the loved one coping with the hearing loss or the caregiver learning how to navigate new waters, it takes both parties working together to have a successful outcome. It’s both persons’ responsibility to do their best in every situation and always show respect for the other’s challenges.
The Better Hearing Institute says that one of the most loving things a caregiver can do is help their loved one come to terms with their diagnosis. This may be even harder than the actual purchase of hearing aids or assistive devices. Loss of hearing is a scary venture into uncharted waters for anyone with a recent diagnosis. A caregiver should be a constant support through the highs and lows of hearing loss. Once it’s properly treated, both sides will be glad they addressed the issue, together.
Reposted with permission from Caregiver.org; written by Jennifer Bradley
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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