Caregiver's Guide to Navigating Age-Related Hearing Loss
Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, is the gradual and inevitable loss of hearing as we get older. It is not a disease that can be cured, but rather an aging process that is irreversible. It is understood that the tiny hair cells in our ears, that help us in 'picking up' sounds, are damaged over time. These cells do not regrow as old age arrives, and therefore, presbycusis occurs.
Several factors come into play:
- Frequency of exposure to loud noises
- Personal habits and hygiene
- Medical conditions (including diabetes)
- Certain medical processes (chemotherapy and certain drug use)
According to a study, one in every three people between ages 65-74 suffers from hearing loss, and about every other person over the age of 75 has hearing loss. Therefore, it is crucial for caregivers to understand and cater to the elderly with hearing loss. Certain issues must be addressed and the following steps can help.
More Than Just Words
There are several ways to improve communication with seniors and bring clarity to your conversation. As their hearing gets worse, seniors naturally start looking for other signs to assist their reception. These are simply gestures for non-verbal communication.
Elders will pick up non-verbal gestures more than younger people. Therefore, it is critical for caregivers to face the person they are talking to. Focus on them and try to express through hand gestures, nods, smiles or frowns. Never turn away midway through a sentence.
One simple practice is to have things already prepared and in place when seniors arrive. Hence, you don't have to turn your back to pick a book, bring the food or do any expected action. In case you must turn your back, do so after completing your sentence and conversation.
Diaphragm, Not the Throat
Often, seniors suffering from hearing loss may ask to raise your voice. In these cases, caregivers for seniors must realize they must not yell. Yelling simply distorts the voice signal and makes it difficult for seniors to listen and understand.
When asked to ‘raise your voice’, try to project your voice through your chest and diaphragm. If you focus on your throat, not only will your throat throb, but the message will remain unclear.
Rephrase and repeat. Not only do the elderly suffer from hearing loss, but they are also prone to confusing and mixing words. Caregivers for seniors are instructed to show patience and rephrase their sentences if the elderly get confused.
Speak slower and try putting emphasis on the rephrased portion of the sentences. There are a million ways to express every emotion and piece of information, so just find the next one.
When it is already difficult to hear properly, any background noise is just more trouble.
Try some of the techniques to reduce background noises. Turn off your cell phones, switch off any televisions in the background and have your conversation in a peaceful environment.
One by One, Taking Turns
While providing healthcare services for seniors, focus on etiquettes and conversational manners. Caregivers are developed with the sense that it is rude to interrupt another person. Not only that, seniors with hearing loss will lose focus and ability to follow the conversation if it gets interrupted over and over.
Therefore, when having a conversation, sit close enough and speak in turns. Try talking to one person at a time. If it is a group conversation, wait for turns and speak clearly enough for everyone.
Hearing Aids Aren’t Magic Beans
Common hearing aids merely amplify whatever sound is entering the air. It is only the advanced hearing aids that contain noise canceling and automatic control. However, most seniors have simple hearing aids.
Caregivers must realize that hearing aids do not cancel noise, and do not compensate for confusing or forgotten words. Even though seniors may be able to hear you properly through the hearing aid, there are other problems associated with presbycusis.
Additionally, it takes some time for the brain to get accustomed to hearing aids. As a caregiver, make sure the hearing aids are properly configured. If they need charging, make sure every member’s hearing aids are charged before the group conversation.
Better Caregiving for Our Seniors
Long-term exposure to loud noises can hasten age-related hearing loss. As a large fraction of our elderly experience this condition, caregivers must be enlightened accordingly.
Just as with any other aspect of their life, seniors with age-related hearing loss are helped by extra focus, reducing background noise, communicating with more than just words and of course, patience.