Many senior adults above 75 have hearing loss, and here’s how you, as a caregiver, can help them.
According to a 2019 report by the American Academy of Family Physicians, more than 30 million adults in the US deal with some degree of hearing loss.
Research shows that 1 in 3 Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have a hearing impairment, and the figure goes upto 1 in 2 for those above 75. Studies also show that hearing loss is the third most common chronic disease amongst older people.
Your aging parents and loved ones may likely have hearing loss at some point. Thus, as a caregiver, you need to prepare for the same and learn how to manage hearing loss if and when your family members face it.
If you are a professional caregiver, you will be likely to care for an older person with hearing loss is extremely high. This caregiver’s guide to managing hearing loss among seniors will help you through it all.
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What Is Hearing Loss?
To many, hearing loss is the inability to hear external sounds, noises, and voices, but it is so much more than that.
In medical terms, hearing loss can be defined as the ability to hear clear tones and frequencies needed to understand speech. There are three main types of hearing loss: Conductive, Mixed, and Sensorineural – the last one is responsible for hearing loss in senior adults.
The hearing loss related to age is also known as presbycusis. The ability to hear doesn’t go away entirely in the first few years, but it is a gradual process. It is also true that hearing loss due to old age doesn’t have any cure, but it can indeed be delayed or avoided altogether.
However, it is a part of the natural process of the body. Thus, people can rely on some technological cures such as cochlear implants, hearing aids, and other advanced technological devices to restore the hearing ability of those suffering from the problem.
Hearing loss in adults can lead to other health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, withdrawal, anger, loss of self-esteem, lack of self-love, and sadness. Some severe conditions can also lead to memory loss, mobility, and other cognitive processes of the body.
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How Can You Detect Hearing loss?
Some of the most common signs for hearing loss in adults are mentioned below –
Inability to hear high-pitched sounds.
Discomfort or inability to hear high-pitched sounds. For example, when you notice that the TV volume is relatively higher than usual and the senior member cannot seem to see the same, they might lose their ability to hear.
One or both ears seems to be clogged, or it feels like the external sound is coming from a far distance.
They may complain about hearing ringing sounds in their ears. If this continues for an extended period, it is advisable to check with a physician. Please note that ringing in the ears isn’t always a sign of the onset of hearing loss. Thus, it is essential to get your ears tested to be sure.
You might feel the need to repeat your sentences when talking to them. People with hearing loss cannot hear the conversation in one go.
What Causes Hearing Loss in the Elderly?
Medical experts say sensory hair cells known as stereocilia get damaged due to loud noises and chronic illnesses, which undoubtedly contribute to hearing loss in older people.
The ear structure is based on three major areas: outer, middle, and inner ear. We hear waves that pass through the outer ear and create specific vibrations in the eardrum that amplify the pulses and guide the same towards the inner ear.
The snail-shaped structure known as Cochlea is located in the inner area where this process takes place.
The cochlea nerve cells have a large number of tiny hairs, which help in the translation of sound vibrations into electrical signals, which are then transmitted to the brain.
Thus, the vibrations are converted into sound signals, and a person can hear the sound or voice of another person.
There is no single reason that causes hearing loss in older adults. Some of the common reasons could be:
- Lifelong exposure to loud noises
- Health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension
- Ear infections
- Fluid build-up
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How Can Caregivers Help Older Adults In Accepting And Diagnosing The Problem?
It is never easy to see your loved one dealing with a health problem or issue. Thus, it requires immense strength and positivity on your part to help your senior family member with it.
Accepting The Problem
The first responsibility is to convince them that they might have a problem with hearing. Well, we all can agree that aging people can be a bit stubborn and refuse to admit problems sometimes! It is difficult to convince them, but you need to show patience, perseverance, and understanding.
The best way to do the same is to speak to them frankly, with no hint of derision or concern. Try to be as objective as possible while also being empathetic.
If they do not agree to meet a doctor, you might have to take the situation into your own hands and take them to one, no matter how much they disagree. This is tough love, and sometimes this is needed to take care of your family member.
Having “The Talk”: Tips And Things To Think About
If someone you love has hearing loss, then the first thing that you, as a caregiver, can do is to communicate the same to them. You can start with your own experience with them regarding their inability to listen to your words.
For example, “I have noticed that when we talk in person, or on phone, you seem to not understand what I am saying. Perhaps, it would be a good idea to check in with a physician, just to be sure that you are doing fine.”
You can also add a compliment or two, so they feel better and do not let their fears take over, such as, “You are anyway healthy and strong, so dealing with any problem won’t be a big deal for you.”
Always remember to be patient. It might not work for the first time for the senior member since they might be in denial. Thus, take some time before you ask them about seeing a professional again. You must offer to accompany them to the doctor if nothing else, and if and when you go to see an ear specialist with them, do not be afraid to ask anything related to hearing loss.
Finally, do your research and develop all the technological tools and advances that help deal with hearing loss in old age. Share the information with your loved ones and let them know that there are so many advanced and successful treatments for the problem.
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Staying By Their Side During The Doctor Visit
The first step is to accompany the person to the doctor visits and assure them that you will stay by their side throughout the procedure and bring the best medication.
Secondly, let them confide their fears in you by being open and sharing your own fears and problems. Try your best to encourage them positively. Sometimes, a professional therapist can also help them cope with potential consequences.
Helping Decide Future Course Of Action
Once the diagnosis is made, you shall personally talk to the doctor and reach the best possible solution for your elderly loved one and thus, take the required step as soon as possible. Also, it is best to include other stakeholders (such as friends and family members) in any decision that is taken.
How Do You Treat Hearing Loss in the Elderly?
As a caregiver, one might be forgiven to think that understanding treatments and tests is not a mandatory thing. However, in order to really help the ones you are caring for, it makes sense to know more about these things.
The first step, of course, is to visit a physician, ENT, or audiologist to put the finger on the exact problem. Below are the steps for the treatment of hearing loss in the elderly for the caregivers.
Diagnosis and tests
Getting to the root of the problem is the most important step. Screening for hearing impairment is a part of the process, which might take place in four ways.
The medical officer will check the ears of the elderly to look for any earwax build-up, infection, or any other problem.
General screening is a simple process where one ear of the patient is covered, and the other ear is exposed to words and sounds to learn how much they can listen.
Tuning fork tests
Your doctor creates vibrations by tapping and holding them near your ear and seeing if you can hear them. This also helps the professional to understand where exactly the problem in one’s ear is occurring.
The final test is when you wear earphones and listen to the sounds directed in your ear. This test is usually done under the guidance and supervision of an audiologist, which measures the amount of sound you can perceive and listen to with your ear.
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Hearing loss treatment
The treatment of hearing loss depends on the source of one’s problem. In the case of senior citizens, various tools and strategies can be used to amplify the sounds and improve the communication between the caregivers and the patient.
Some of the most preferred hearing loss treatments in adults include
- Regularly removing ear wax.
- Hearing aids
- Cochlear implants
- Sound-enhancing tools
- In drastic cases, surgery is the best option.
Hearing Aid Devices
In hearing loss in older people, the specialists usually refer to different hearing devices, mostly hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and cochlear implants. As a caregiver, you must have considerable knowledge of them all.
These are external tools worn around the affected ear to amplify the sound reaching their ears. Every hearing aid comes with a microphone and a battery-powered amplifier that lowers and increases the volume of the person.
The microphone is placed inside the ear to transmit the sound to the person wearing it. They can be used regularly and are easy to put on.
However, as a caregiver, we would advise you to teach your parents or loved ones to wear it well and learn the pros and cons and the entire process yourself to help them whenever needed.
These are the electronic devices recommended for people who have had severe hearing loss. It stimulates the auditory nerve via electrodes in the inner ear, which helps people pick up sounds and vibrations.
They are placed surgically and are more popular with young children. However, it has become quite popular amongst senior adults who are dealing with profound hearing loss.
These devices are used to help people suffering from hearing loss communicate easily. People dealing with speech disorders also take the help of this device to express themselves better.
There are a variety of devices available for different hearing and speech problems. As a caretaker, you must ask the professional about the one that suits your elderly parent or loved one the best.
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How To Get Financial Aid for the Hearing Impaired Elderly?
As a caregiver, it becomes your responsibility to help your aging parents and old loved ones with everything that they need after losing their ability to hear. The thing that you need in this matter is financial management or assistance.
Does Medicare Cover Hearing Aids?
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover hearing aids or tests, or fitting of aids. When the Medicare law was enacted, there was little understanding of the significance of hearing loss, how widespread the problem is, and how it can lead to depression.
The law assumed that hearing tests and hearing aids are routine problems for which the patient will pay for themselves. Want to save a little bucks for hearing aids? maybe used hearing aids are right for you.
While there has been a lot of effort to change the law in recent years, as of now, Medicare still does not cover hearing problems.
What Are My Options?
There are other ways to get financial assistance for the treatment. Many insurance companies take care of the elderly needs as well.
The Hearing Loss Association of America offers many options for financial aid for adults dealing with hearing loss. The assistance provided by many institutes and organizations helps cover the entire expense of the treatment, from tests to medication and treatment.
Dealing With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss does not have to be the end of the world. There are many ways in which you can make life easier for your older adult.
How do you communicate with hearing loss in the elderly?
We have compiled a list of some valuable tips that you can follow while communicating with an elder person dealing with hearing loss. Check them out and see if they work for you.
- Speak at a slow and reasonable speed to help them understand what you mean.
- Make sure that there is no or minimal background noise. For this reason, it is advised to sit in a room or a park to talk rather than going to a restaurant.
- You can help them be a part of the community or group of older citizens with hearing loss. This will bring a sense of belonging to them. Then, you can accompany them and communicate with them as well as other people.
- Face the person and speak as clearly and fluently as possible. Try to use more facial expressions and hand gestures to help them understand your words and sentences.
- Try to make sure that only one person talks to them at a time. They already feel embarrassed about their condition. So, let’s be kind, positive, and patient with them.
Ask them further about how you can help or contribute to making things comfortable for them.
Lifestyle changes to help your older adults deal with this experience
As a caregiver, you can bring simple changes in the life of your aging loved ones and yourself to deal with this experience. We have discussed some of them below –
Lip reading and sign language
It is recommended for the elderly to work with a speech therapist or audiologist to learn how to read lips. It has been observed that focusing on a person’s lips and speech helps the elders communicate better with them.
You can follow some new ways to communicate with the person, such as standing right in front of them when speaking to them, pronouncing each word carefully and slowly, or typing or writing your sentences to help them understand better.
They should avoid sitting near a speaker and other loud instruments to keep their ears safe and sound from further loss of hearing. It is best to take them to a park instead of a café or a party.
There are facial exercises that might help them improve their hearing ability. Practicing yoga will help – if nothing else, one will always find peace of mind while performing postures or meditating.
You can ask others who meet your elderly loved one to talk louder than usual without shouting since it can make the senior person quite uncomfortable and embarrassed at the same time.
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We are all going to grow old with time without any choice. Thus, it is essential to start caring for our ears and other organs so that our body can’t complain when we cross a certain age.
As a caregiver, it is our responsibility to ensure that our elderly wards go for regular body check-ups and hearing tests, and in case any issues arise, understand that there is a solution for literally every problem in the world.
We have tried to compile all the information that you need as a caregiver in one place. If we have missed out on some of your queries, please let us know in the comments section, and we will try to get back to you.
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