Sensory changes that people experience as part of the aging process are often misunderstood and lead to false stereotyping or labeling of a person as confused or failing. Sensory changes can include vision, diminishing taste or smell, or the focus of this week’s column, hearing changes. If you are an individual with reduced hearing, my hope is that this information will provide some tips to aid you in your daily functioning, happiness, and independence. If you are family or friend of a person with reduced hearing, my hope is that you too will gain some ideas about how to help your relatives and/or friends with their hearing loss.
Be aware that as people age, there is a decline in their ability to hear. This age related hearing loss is usually greater for men than for women. The reason for this is unknown, but it is suspected that men have been exposed to more damaging noise during their lifetimes in the military service or in their jobs. People with hearing losses must depend upon others to speak clearly to them because they cannot compensate for their hearing loss themselves. When speaking to a hearing impaired individual, speak clearly and slowly and do not change the topic abruptly. Be sure to face the person at eye level and have light on your face so lip reading is possible. Ask the person what you can do to make hearing easier.
People with normal hearing have a wide range between the quietest sound they can hear and the loudness which will be painful or irritating. For the hard of hearing, this range will be much smaller. Sounds may have to be quite loud to be heard, but if the sounds are even a little louder they may be too loud and become painful. Hearing loss is worse for high frequencies; some sounds will be heard while others will not. Sounds may be distorted, heard incorrectly, or misinterpreted. Talk to hard of hearing people to find out what tone is best to use with them. Do not assume that simply making things louder will resolve the problem. Try not to allow your voice to become high and shrill – women should be especially careful about this. When there is a sound system being used for music or an oral presentation of any kind, it should be adjusted so that the base and lower tones are predominant. This will make it easier for hard of hearing people to enjoy the music or understand what is being said.
Hearing loss is greater for consonants than for vowels. S, Z, T, F, and G are particularly difficult to tell apart, causing difficulty in hearing words correctly. Similar words such as cat and sat can be difficult to discriminate. People should be aware that even if the sounds can be heard, they might not always be heard correctly. It is helpful to choose a quiet private place with out background noise for conversations.
Some hearing deficits can be helped by the use of hearing aids. They must be worn and adjusted correctly in order to help. Here are some tips on making smart hearing aid purchases. It is always wise to have a doctor test your hearing so you can find out the cause of your hearing loss and your specific needs. Get a referral from your doctor or friends who were satisfied with the services received from a hearing aid dealer. And, select a seller who promptly responds to your concerns and works with you to resolve fitting and volume adjustment problems. Look for a seller who will teach you how to use the device and be available to service it.
Some hearing deficits cannot be helped by hearing aids and the hearing is so poor that verbal communication is difficult. In this case, encourage use of nonverbal communication such as big smiles, waving or demonstrating. Provide items which can be seen and handled as conversation starters. Also, do not overlook the potential for writing to communicate. Provide opportunities for people to participate in activities that are enjoyable but require little conversation; playing cards, doing puzzles, preparing food and taking walks for example.
When people cannot hear what is being said, be sure that they know what is going on and what the conversation is about. If there is a conversation that does not concern them, tell him/her the topic so that he/she will not feel left out or talked about.
Hearing is important to more than communication. It is also a way of getting signals from the surroundings and therefore relates to safety. People who work or live with a hard of hearing person should keep this in mind. People in the community should also consider that an older person crossing the street may or may not hear a car horn.
Hearing loss affects several aspects of a person’s life and the lives of their family and friends. Learning how to handle the hearing loss can be beneficial to everyone.