Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting seniors. It can also be a frustrating and isolating experience. Communication is key, especially between seniors and caregivers. Understanding the symptoms, causes and treatments of hearing loss can help caregivers maintain effective communication and provide valuable care.
What are the symptoms of hearing loss?
Hearing loss in seniors tends to occur gradually. As a result, many seniors may be unaware that a problem is developing. Caregivers should watch for common signs of hearing loss, including:
- Asking people to repeat themselves or speak louder
- Turning up the volume on the radio or television
- Difficulty following conversations, especially if there is background noise or two people speaking at once
- Inability to hear someone who is speaking from another room or has their back turned
- Difficulty hearing on the telephone
What causes hearing loss?
There are different types of hearing loss that affect seniors. Sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent condition caused by damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve. Conductive hearing loss occurs when something stops sound waves from reaching the inner ear, such as a build-up of ear wax. This can normally be fixed through surgery or other medical procedures. Many different factors can cause hearing loss, including genetics, medications, head injury and ear infections. It is difficult to prevent hearing loss, especially as a senior. However, avoiding loud noises and the overuse of headphones can help, as can the proper treatment of ear infections.
How is hearing loss diagnosed and treated?
If a senior is suffering from hearing loss, they should visit their family doctor as soon as possible to determine the exact cause. The sooner hearing loss is diagnosed, the better the treatment options. A senior may need to visit a hearing specialist, such as an otolaryngologist or audiologist, for an official diagnosis and treatment plan. Common treatments include medication, surgery and hearing aids. Complete hearing loss is rare; often, treatments allow a senior to maintain a moderate ability to hear.
How should you care for a senior with hearing loss?
If a senior is suffering from hearing loss, caregivers should make sure to communicate with them in a way that is effective and considerate. Avoid speaking to a senior from another room or with your back turned. Instead, make eye contact with a senior while speaking slowly and clearly. This allows a senior to read your lips and facial expressions, which can help fill in the blanks. Additionally, do not attempt to speak over loud music or a television show. Turn down the volume or press pause so that a senior is not distracted by additional noise. If multiple people are present, encourage everyone to take turns speaking rather than interrupting one another. Check regularly to make sure hearing aids are in working order and do not require fresh batteries. Remember that hearing loss does not mean a senior is cognitively impaired. Rather than assuming a senior cannot understand you, make sure you are communicating in a way that allows them to hear what you are saying.
Hearing loss is a prevalent condition amongst seniors, but it does not have to impair communication. A proper diagnosis and treatment plan can help improve a senior’s ability to hear. Additionally, proper support from a caregiver can make communication easier and more enjoyable. If you have any questions about supporting a senior with hearing loss, please ask us in the comments.