May 012012

Hearing loss affects not only the elderly but a large portion of the population and is frustrating for everyone. Because it interferes with their ability to communicate, those that are hard of hearing often feel cut off from the world around them. This is especially true of older adults who are often isolated due to mobility or transportation problems Not only is it frustrating and annoying but it can be dangerous since they may not hear smoke detectors going off, sirens, horns, barking dogs or other auditory warnings.

In the past older people were reluctant to wear hearing aids. They were large and magnified everything, including annoying background noises that we normally tune out. Today’s hearing aides are lighter, smaller and the quality has improved greatly. If you notice your parent is turning the television up louder and asking you to repeat things more, have their hearing checked out. They may just have a buildup of ear wax, an infection or some other obstruction. If that isn’t the case, your next step is to have an audiologist evaluate them.

Most complaints that people with hearing loss have is that people mumble. Speaking louder is not the answer, they can hear you but they just do not understand what you are saying. Clarity is the problem. Certain tones, usually high-pitched ones, are fuzzy. Some consonants such as “f”, “s”, and “z” may sound the same. Background noise may be harder to filter. My grandma complained of not being able to hear if there were a bunch of people in the room or if the television was on. People with a higher pitched voice were hard for her to understand. This type of hearing loss is known as nerve deafness.

Another problem is constant ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus. It may also manifest as a clicking, buzzing, or hissing sound and it can be much more than annoying. It can make hearing almost impossible. There are many causes such as some medications, illness, allergies and of course listening to loud music. Well, any loud noise over time, such as running machinery or gun fire. Talk with an audiologist about options to reduce the annoyance. It usually involves using white noise in some manner to mask the constant sound.

When talking with a parent who is hard of hearing, do not yell. Stand or sit in front of them and face them. We all do a certain amount of lip-reading anyway, but those who are hard of hearing often depend on seeing the movement of your mouth and facial expressions for understanding. Keep your hands away from your face. Turn off the television, radio, running water or any other background noise if possible.

Enunciate clearly but without exaggerating the mouth movement. Speak up, but do not shout or raise the pitch of your voice. If anything, lower it slightly. Do not talk with gum or food in your mouth or while trying to smoke. Use simple and direct sentences. If you are asked to repeat something, rephrase it. Using different words may be easier to understand. Use body language and facial expression appropriately, smiling, touching, pointing, nodding. When eating out, go at an off hour or pick the quietest part of the restaurant to reduce background noise.

In addition to an audiologist, you might want to consult with a speech therapist. They have all kinds of tips that may be useful.

Besides gadgets that amplify sounds on things such as the phone, alarms, etc., consider also using instruments that provide visual clues such as flashing lights. At the very least, make sure your parent one can hear smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detector alarms. Televisions usually have the ability to print text along the bottom of the screen and most stations provide closed captioning.

Hearing aids can be quite expensive and you will not know how well they will work until you try them for a while. There will be a period of adjustment. Few insurance companies will pay for more than the cost of testing. There are civic organizations that will help. Contact the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for a list of organizations that offer financial assistance. You can also call Self Help for the Hard of Hearing @ 301-657-2248 and they can give you a list of organizations in your area that offer help. You might also want to contact the Council on Aging, Senior Citizens Organization and other community, civic and spiritual organizations in your area.

Sometimes the simplest devices are the best. I knew a lady, whom everyone called Granny G, who had tried several hearing aids with limited success. One day she saw an ad for a device you wear around your neck that amplified sound and you put ear buds in your ear. It was similar to a Walkman (for those of us old enough to remember those). She loved it and swore it was better than all her hearing aids. She showed it to everyone and several of her friends ended up getting one.

While eating at an out-of-town restaurant one evening, a man approached her table and asked her about the device hanging around her neck. It seems his wife was hard of hearing and they had tried everything with limited success. Granny G immediately took it off went over to his wife and had her try it. The wife’s face lit up! She could hear! Her husband was amazed and very grateful. This little box that cost about twenty dollars worked better than some very expensive equipment he had tried. It turns out he was an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist). That really tickled Granny G. She didn’t get too many opportunities to teach a doctor something!

Besides approaching strangers when out in public, there are other resources available to you. These include American Speech-Language-Hearing Association; Self Help for Hard of Hearing, American Tinnitus Association; National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders; American Academy of Audiology; American Academy of Otolaryngolgy-Head and Neck Surgery




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  14 Responses to “Elderly Parents Who Are Hearing Imparied”

  1. I´ve never found a good device to amplify sounds, because they give equal volume to short and long distance sounds, making more of a confusion. Any device that you recomment?
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  2. That’s good advice to consult a speech therapist for tips, and I love the story of Granny G!

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  3. great advise about speaking clearly rather than more loudly

  4. That is such a cute story with the granny Suzanne!

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  5. I can verify every point you make…my father is hard of hearing. Often we talk louder in order to make ourselves understood and then he thinks we are angry. Just talking louder makes me FEEL angry! Your advice is much wiser.
    Sonya Lenzo

  6. Great points … no need to shout.

    Lyle – The Sales Wizard
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  7. I am noticing those tiny hearing aids more and more.
    Thanks for the information.
    Be Well.

  8. In the early 1990′s I had a friend who was a TTY Relay Operator for those that were hard of hearing. TTY Relar Operators are a vital and valuable resource for those that suffer from hearing loss.

    Yours In Health!

    G.E. Moon II
    Live A Life Of Wealth Beyond Reason

  9. My grandfather was slightly hearing impaired from when I was a very young child until he died on December 12, 2011. He never would do anything to help correct the problem. While I wish he had been willing to make his hearing better, I’d be overjoyed to have him here now even with his poor hearing.

    Cherie Miranda
    Meditation To Overcome Problems

  10. Good point about not yelling and instead stand directly in front of the person and not cover your mouth. Also loved the story about Granny G. She sounds like a great lady.

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  11. Suzanne, in this case you have to be very good at reading body language.

    How Not To Do Business

  12. LOL! Great story and it is great to know there are a lot of different solutions. I know people in bands who have had to have surgury and have their eardrums replaced…

    I have a feeling I could forward a lot of musicians to this particular blog of yours!

    Taking down the Music industry Band By Band

  13. Thank you for this information. I thought I needed to speak up when in fact I just need to speak slower and clearly. I will make sure my patients can see me when I talk to them so they can read my lips.

    Yours In Health!

    Dr. Wendy
    Kettlebells and You

  14. Hi Suzanne,
    My Dad was hard of hearing, thank you for helping others understand, this challenge!
    Looking forward to tomorrow!
    When does the caregiver get care?

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