Helping a loved one with hearing loss

October 31st, 2019

By: Sharon Roth Maguire, MS, RN, GNP-BC

Hearing loss is a problem that many people face as they age. According to the Mayo Clinic, close to one-third of people between 65 and 75 have hearing loss that affects their daily lives.

Older adults with hearing loss have a higher probability of social isolation. It can become difficult to hear alarms or doorbells or follow a conversation in a crowded room, so many individuals remove themselves from social situations. Isolation can also lead to depression and contribute to cognitive decline.

If you’re caring for an older loved one, be on the lookout for certain signs of hearing loss, as well as ways you can help your loved one hear better.

Signs and Causes of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be frustrating and embarrassing for older adults. It can also be dangerous at times. It can develop suddenly or gradually. You might notice your loved one is responding to you or others differently or avoiding certain situations. Be cautious about labeling their behavior as dementia. Their response or actions could be related to hearing challenges.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:

  • Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly, and loudly
  • Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio
  • Perceiving speech and other sounds as muffled
  • Withdrawal from conversations

With age-related hearing loss, consonants such as “C,” “S,” “T,” ‘Z,” K,” P,” and “F” are softer and higher pitched, which makes them harder to distinguish from vowels. The same goes for the “Th” sound. Your loved one may have trouble understanding what people are saying even in quieter environments because they’ve lost clarity in their hearing.

There are three types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of problems with the ear canal, eardrum or middle ear that prevents sounds from carrying well to the inner ear. For older adults, impacted earwax can cause it.

  • Sensorineural hearing loss most often is the result of damage to the hair cells in your inner ear. It usually happens as you age, but it also can result from noise exposure, chemotherapy, trauma, radiation, or genetics.

  • Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.

Most types of hearing loss are not reversible, but a doctor or a hearing expert can help improve your loved one’s hearing.

How to Help With Hearing Loss at Home

Hearing loss can be a touchy subject to discuss since most older adults may not be aware of the extent of their hearing loss. It can be perceived as yet another loss by them and impactful on their dignity and self-worth. It’s important to have conversations about their hearing loss in a private setting as opposed to bringing up the topic at a family dinner. It can also be frustrating for families and seniors since hearing aids are not covered by most health insurance plans or Medicare, and out of pocket costs can be substantial. Also, hearing aids may not be helpful when the primary problem is sensorineural hearing loss.

Gentle introduction to the topic is best, such as “Mom/Dad, I’ve noticed that your hearing is not what it used to be – have you noticed that, too?” You can give an example of a time when they didn’t hear you correctly or didn’t answer or respond to an alarm because they didn’t hear it. You can express concern for their safety or for their engagement and participation in life as their hearing loss fails.

It’s important to demonstrate empathy and connect something relevant in their life that may be impacted by their hearing loss. It’s also helpful to provide examples of what might be available in the form of hearing aids or assistive devices, but here it’s best to know what your loved one’s preferences are – will they appreciate your research in advance or will they be offended? If the latter is true, offer to do the research together. Don’t be surprised if it takes more than one discussion to resolve the issue – patience in this regard is truly a virtue!

Your loved one also may benefit from in-home care. A caregiver can provide support and conversation, and they can help an individual feel less isolated. Our caregivers at BrightStar Care use a compassionate approach to build a special trust with clients through meaningful activities, mentally stimulating conversation, and overall companionship.

If your loved one is experiencing hearing loss, BrightStar Care can help. To learn how your loved one might benefit from in-home support and a nurse-led plan of care, call 866-618-7827 or contact a BrightStar Care® home care agency near you.