National Family Caregivers Month: Caring for those with hearing loss

Contributed by | Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

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The late actor Edward Albert once said, “The simple act of caregiving is heroic.” It is in that spirit that November is designated as National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize all who sacrifice every day to help those in need. All across the U.S., family members such as spouses, adult children or siblings have dedicated themselves to helping those who can’t help themselves.

According to the AARP 2015 Caregivers Report, there are approximately 43.5 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. Almost half of these caregivers, 47 percent, are caring for someone age 75 or older.

Woman's hand supporting an older woman on walker
Thank a dedicated caregiver this month.

So, how often does hearing loss factor into the daily lives of caregivers? The NIDCD reports that more than 50 percent of those over the age of 75 have hearing loss. Those percentages increase as the population ages. Hearing loss, whether treated or untreated, comes with a host of other implications that caregivers need to be aware of. First, seniors with hearing loss are more at risk for health problems, both physical and emotional. These health risks include feelings of depression and isolation as well as cognitive decline.

Other physical risks include the risk of falls, which are three times more likely to occur even with mild hearing loss, and the inability to hear warnings and alarms. And since most general practitioners do not routinely screen for hearing loss, it often falls to the caregiver to make sure matters of hearing health are tended to. This means either requesting a hearing screening during a regular check-up or making an appointment with a hearing health professional.

Those providing care to a person with hearing loss can face other challenges as well. Everything from attending doctor’s appointments and day to day communication to simply watching a television program requires factoring hearing loss into the equation. It is helpful for caregivers to learn about hearing loss so they can help the person they are caring for live a happy and fulfilled life.

“The simple act of caregiving is heroic.” - Edward Albert

There are numerous signs that can indicate that the person you are caring for might have hearing loss. Make an appointment to see a hearing healthcare professional if the person you are caring for:

  • Frequently asks you or others to repeat themselves
  • Has to increase the volume on the TV to uncomfortable levels
  • Reports that sounds are muffled
  • Seems more withdrawn
  • Seems to have trouble hearing amid background noise
  • Has difficulty distinguishing consonant sounds, such as “K” and “T”

If you suspect there is hearing loss, take action. Depression, withdrawal and social isolation, along with the aforementioned physical health risks, can reduce quality of life for those with untreated hearing loss. First, make an appointment with a hearing care care professional, preferably one that specializes in senior care. Next, since hearing aids are a considerable expense, when helping the person in your care shop for hearing aids, knowing a few things going in can help you make the right decision.

  • Educate yourself about the costs involved prior to shopping for hearing aids. Hearing aids typically cost anywhere from $1000 to $3500 per device.
  • There are many different types of hearing aids available, so provide as much information as possible to the hearing care professional about the capabilities, lifestyle and needs of the person in your care.
  • Request a demonstration of any device that is chosen to make sure it meets the needs of the person in your care.
  • Remember, hearing aids should never cause pain or discomfort to the person wearing them. If there is pain, they are not fitted correctly.

After the person in your care has received his hearing aids, depending on his cognitive and fine motor skills, it might fall to you as the caregiver to perform basic cleaning and maintenance tasks on hearing aids. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Hearing aids need regular cleaning to remove dust and earwax in order to perform properly. The soft brush or cloth that comes with them can be used for this purpose.
  • Never insert anything into the receiver, as it can be easily damaged. 
  • Filters need to be changed on a regular basis to prevent wax and dirt buildup.
  • Make sure the person in your care removes hearing aids overnight. Storing them in a dry-kit is helpful to remove any moisture that has built up during the course of the day and to keep the devices safe overnight.
  • Change batteries on a regular basis.
  • See your hearing care professional on a regular basis for more thorough cleaning, adjustments and any other necessary maintenance. 

As a caregiver to a person with hearing loss, there is much to be considered in order to make sure the person in your care can hear the world around him and enjoy as much independence as possible. Some general caregiver guidelines to keep in mind are:

  • Be patient. Learning as much as you can about the difficulties hearing loss presents to those who have it and the emotional/psychological implications will help you in being empathetic to the feelings and emotions of the person in your care.
  • Find out about the resources in your area that can help assist the person in your care, from looped public spaces to hearing care professionals to organizations that can assist with the cost of hearing aids.
  • Educate yourself about hearing loss so you can distinguish fact from fiction.
  • Watch out for environmental factors that could worsen the hearing loss. These include harmful noise levels and ototoxic medications.
  • Making small changes in the home environment can reduce frustration and allow the person in your care to feel more independent. These include amplified phones, flashing or vibrating alarms and television-specific assistive listening devices (ALDs).
  • Talk to the person you are caring for to find out what works best for them in terms of communication. Do they prefer you to speak near one ear versus the other, for example, or is it easier for them if they can see your lips move?

Caregivers face many challenges, and in particular caregivers to those with hearing loss have much to learn. But taking these few simple steps can help improve the day to day quality life for the person in your care and help them engage in life once again.

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