Hearing impairment has far reaching implications not only for the individual with the loss, but also for those close to them. A recent study by the University of Florida indicates that 62% of elderly people admit to difficulty hearing. When you consider our aging population, this is a staggering number of people coping with hearing loss either directly or indirectly as a result of a family member or loved one who is hearing impaired.
In order to effectively help the hearing impaired senior in your life, consider the following tips:
- Educate yourself about hearing loss. While a large percentage of the elderly admit communication difficulties as a result of hearing loss, the reality is that only 5% actively seek and ultimately use hearing aids and assistive devices. There are a number of stigmata that often prevent individuals from seeking help. Despite the best of intentions to help your senior, be prepared for resistance to obtaining intervention. The more you understand the causes and nature of hearing loss -- including psychological aspects of the condition -- the better prepared you will be to educate and motivate your senior.
- See their primary care doctor. Many people assume that treating hearing loss is as simple as getting a hearing aid, and consequently schedule an appointment at a hearing aid dispensary, thereby bypassing their physician. A number of medically treatable conditions can affect hearing including wax and fluid in the middle ear. Additionally, some medications or the combined effects of multiple medications can have ototoxic (damaging) effects on hearing. Your primary care physician will be able to effectively rule out these factors prior to obtaining further care. Once your senior has been medically cleared to pursue further hearing help, these doctors are some of your best resources for referral to a licensed audiologist intensive hearing assessment.
- Look for a professional. If your physician does not recommend a hearing provider then you should familiarize yourself with professionals in your area who provide this service. It is a mistake to just call the first person listed in the yellow pages and hope for the best. While requirements vary from state to state, it is recommended that you look for a state licensed, certified audiologist versus other available options. Audiologists are hearing providers with either Master's or Doctoral level training specific to assessment and intervention of hearing disorders. As licensed professionals, they are held to certain standards of practice and competency superior to others in the industry. It is always a good idea to check the business out with the Better Business Bureau as well.
- Hearing aids are not magic. Recognize that, although hearing aid technologies are better than ever before, they have limitations. Even with the most technologically advanced product on the market, your senior will still experience communication difficulties in certain situations and with certain speakers. It may require multiple visits to the audiologist for adjustments to the hearing aids before optimal performance is achieved. And even then, there may be limitations. It is important for both you and your senior to have realistic expectations for the outcome of hearing aid use on communication ability. Be sure to ask your hearing health care professional to outline the expectations for your senior based on the intervention strategy chosen. Beyond hearing aids, there may still be other assistive devices to consider to ease the burden of hearing loss for your senior. These include amplified phones, smoke alarms, doorbells, and television systems.
- Be positive and encouraging. Whenever you communicate with your senior, make a point to stress the positive impact hearing help is having on his or her life, as well as on your relationship. It is easy for seniors to get caught up in the negative aspects of hearing aid use and to then use these shortcomings as a premise to reject hearing aid use (i.e. sound quality, hearing in background noise, inconvenience, and cost). They may well not be aware that you aren't shouting or repeating to them anymore. On the flip-side, encourage your senior to be open and honest with the care provider about any issues with the hearing aids. Many problems are easily correctable provide the hearing health care provider is aware.
Hearing loss is a condition for which there are many intervention strategies and options available. Seniors often suffer in silence unnecessarily and may simply need a supportive push to obtain valuable help. With a little research and some open dialogue, amazing quality of life enhancements are possible from the treatment of hearing loss.