One of my favorite things this time of year is the early morning sound of birds. I’m not a birder so I can’t identify birds by their calls, but the chirps, whistles, tweets, and caws seem to herald a great day ahead. Sounds connect us with our environment and with others.
Working with the elderly has taught me that losing your hearing has an impact on the quality of living. At younger ages, we take for granted our understanding of conversations, directions and questions. We can only imagine what it must be like to partially hear words or to be dependent on lip reading. With partial hearing, how well would you follow what’s going on and be able to contribute to the conversation?
When caring for loved ones, keep in mind, hearing allows an aging person to be part of the community.
As we age, hearing loss is relatively common. We all know exposure to loud noises contributes to hearing loss, but hearing loss can also be caused by disease, bacteria, medications or your genes.
With aging comes a related hearing issue: tinnitus. This is often referred to as “ringing in the ears” but can also be characterized by a roar, hiss or buzz.
Tinnitus can be caused by many things including starting or stopping medications, loud noises, blood-flow irregularities and tumors. Causes are not well understood, and treatment is limited, but if a loved one is experiencing tinnitus, they should be seen by their doctor and evaluated.
Something else to know: The body’s natural way of protecting the ear canal from dirt, dust and bacteria is by producing earwax. Earwax buildup in the ear canal can negatively affect hearing. Schedule a medical assessment. To avoid the risk of damaging the ear, a doctor or qualified nurse should be the only one to clean an aging person’s ear canal.
If you are caring for an elderly person who seems to be exhibiting signs of dementia, surprisingly, a hearing loss may be to blame. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has a great quiz to help you recognize hearing loss.
Like eyeglasses correct for vision, hearing aids correct for hearing loss. In our society, there is more resistance to getting hearing aids than to getting glasses. Some of this is may be due to self-perceptions and appearances. If the persons you care for think hearing aids make them look “old,” remind them that responding inappropriately or failing to respond is far more likely to make them appear “out of it” and old. Once your loved ones begin to hear better, you can rest assured that they will be glad you intervened.
Helpful listening devices are available for phones and televisions. An example: Computers can visually provide text for the incoming portion of telephone conversations.
As people age, we inevitably will turn the sound up on our TVs so that we can understand the dialogue. If too loud, an aging person will experience discomfort. If watching television is enjoyable but a struggle, upgrade the quality of the loudspeakers and adjust the equalization (tonal frequency levels) to levels the aging person finds “comfortable.” This will make a big difference to your loved ones: The TV can be enjoyed at lower volume levels, and, at the same time, the dialogue will be more easily understood.
Assistive-listening systems are now commonly available in public venues like movie theaters, auditoriums, concert halls and churches. Call ahead or go to a venue’s website to see if they provide hearing-assistance devices.
While hearing is still good is the time to protect it. It is difficult to get older people to change their habits, but, if still active, they should wear hearing protection when mowing the lawn or using power tools.
Now let’s get back to enjoying the sounds of summer.
MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. She was named the U. S. Small Business Administration’s 2012 Washington state Small Business Person of the Year. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was published the June 2013 edition of City Living Seattle. This article is reprinted by permission of Pacific Publishing Co. ©2013