As a middle aged adult, you may be considered a member of the “sandwich generation.” You are raising a family, and at the same time, taking care of an aging parent, whether it is financially, practically or emotionally--or a combination of these. And this position in life can bring on additional burdens, responsibilities and stress.
As people age, there is an increase in hearing loss that when left untreated, can lead to isolation, confusion, embarrassment and depression. Helping your older parent to hear and communicate better can have an overall quality of life improvement for your parent--and also for you. A parent with whom you can easily communicate in person and on the phone will reduce frustration and emotional fatigue for everyone. Use the following steps to learn how to improve communication for parents who have hearing loss.
Sometimes, people with hearing problems deny their hearing loss and blame others for mumbling or talking too softly. Other people with hearing loss try to control the conversation by doing most of the talking. In doing so, they avoid the need to listen. And still others choose to withdraw from difficult social activities.
When an individual first learns that he or she has a hearing loss, the person may grieve the loss of this body function. Grief is a group of feelings that can cycle and recycle from one emotion to another. Common grief emotions associated with hearing loss include denial, anger, guilt, fear, sadness, confusion and loneliness.
You can help your aging parent come to terms with the hearing loss just by being a supportive listener. Your involvement can provide the emotional support to overcome the grief and begin steps to better hearing.
Successful treatment for hearing loss is a lifelong process and involves ongoing hearing testing, training to hear again and family support all guided by audiologists.
Before the appointment, plan the conversation with your parent. Discuss situations where listening is difficult, such as group activities, restaurant visits, talking on the phone and watching tv.
Ask your parent if he or she has ringing in the ear or feels off balance. People with hearing loss often report ringing in the ear (tinnitus) and are at higher risk for falls. Does your parent live alone, with a spouse, in a private home or a community residence? If you observe your parent to be confused, unsteady or withdrawing from social activities, bring up your concerns with the doctor.
It is important to share this information and concerns with a medical doctor and to request a referral for a hearing evaluation with a certified audiologist. A medical referral is necessary for Medicare coverage for a full hearing test if your parent is a beneficiary.
It is essential that you attend as many audiology appointments with your parent as possible. The more you learn about hearing loss and the negative impact on you and your entire family, the better decisions can be made throughout the process. Having realistic expectations from the beginning can reduce stress and frustration for both you and your parent.
Bring lifestyle information to the audiology appointment. For example:
Where does communication breakdown?
- On the phone
- In group gatherings
Typical day for your parent
- Working or retired
- Lives alone or with spouse in own home
- Lives in a community residence
- Active (frisky) or sedentary with other health concerns (frail)
During the health history discussion, make sure to highlight other health concerns, such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, ringing in the ear, imbalance, low vision, or trouble moving fingers or loss of feeling in the finger tips.
Hearing aids may be part of a solution. Audiologists are highly educated and trained to provide hearing evaluations and expert recommendations for the treatment and prevention of hearing loss. They may recommend hearing aids as part of a hearing rehabilitation plan. They also will discuss other hearing assistive technology. These systems can be used with or without hearing aids in many cases. Be sure to discuss the following:
- T-coils in the hearing aids. These allow access to certain assistive technology
- Amplified telephones and hearing aid compatible cell phones
- Other forms of hearing assistive technology
Hearing aids are electronic devices that collect sound, amplify it and direct the amplified sound into the ear. Styles vary, but all have similar components, including a microphone to pick up sound, an amplifier to make sounds louder, a receiver (speaker) to deliver the amplified sound into the ear, small batteries to power the device, and computer chips that are programmed by the audiologist to individualize the device.
In addition to these basic components there are other features that may be considered along with your parent’s lifestyle and other health concerns, such as:
- Automatic volume control
- Directional microphones
- Telephone coils (t-coils)
- Feedback (whistling) controls
- Blue tooth wireless technology
- Multiple listening programs
- Remote controls
Hearing aids are uniquely fitted to an individual’s hearing loss and listening needs. Buying the least expensive or the most expensive is no guarantee that the device is the most appropriate. Expert advice and fitting of appropriate devices along with individualized programming and rehabilitation, as needed, will ensure the most successful experience for everyone.
The Internet offers many advantages for consumers looking for information and products. Online purchasing is convenient, private and may be cost saving. However, before purchasing hearing aids online, you should understand the following:
- Hearing aids are complex medical devices regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not simple amplifiers
- Hearing aids are digital and can be programmed by an audiologist to fit your parent’s hearing needs
- Purchasing directly online without professional audiologic services may not meet your parents hearing needs
- The programming of hearing aids uses specialized computer programs. Online hearing aids may not be able to be modified by programming
Depending on the degree of hearing loss, hearing aids may be part of a larger solution. Audiologists work with individuals following the first fit. These follow-up appointments are important to fine-tune the programming.
Develop realistic expectations beginning at the first visit with the audiologist. Your parent may have additional health concerns that cause fatigue or affect vision. Other health concerns, including depression and dementia, can factor in the success with hearing aids.
Chances are your parent has been living with untreated hearing loss for up to 10 years. That is a decade of reduced hearing stimulation in the brain. It takes time to retrain the brain following the fitting of hearing aids. Be aware that shouting at your parent is unhelpful and can cause hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Discuss with the audiologist any stress or frustration you may be feeling. The audiologist can provide additional hearing rehab.
Good listening skills should be used consistently by the individual with hearing loss and also by family and friends. If technology has been recommended and fitted, ensure the hearing aids or other technology is in good working condition and is used consistently. Remind your parent to:
- Wear the hearing aids
- Get closer to the speaker, move up front of a lecture hall or in a house of worship
- Don’t talk from room to room
- Take listening breaks. Fatigue can muddle conversations even more
- Ask the speaker to speak more slowly
- Ask the speaker to face you when speaking, and you should look at the speakers face
- Don’t bluff. Let the speaker know when you are having trouble hearing or understanding
Hearing loss affects not only your parent, but you and your family as well. Here are some simple things that you can do to improve conversation and understanding:
- Speak clearly and slowly -- but don’t shout as this distorts sounds
- Get your parent’s attention before beginning a conversation. A tap on the shoulder or another visual cue helps. If you are talking about a magazine article, have the article ready to point to.
- Keep your hands away from your mouth, if possible trim the moustache. Facial cues including lip movements help your parent to see what they don’t hear.
- Move away from noise, choose a quiet place for conversation
- Pick quiet restaurants or off times to dine out.
It is vital to help your aging parent hear and communicate better to enhance your family's overall quality of life. Improving communication will reduce frustration and emotional fatigue for everyone in the family.
Keep in mind that successful treatment for hearing loss is a lifelong process. This involves ongoing hearing testing, training to hear again and family support guided by audiologists.
More expert advice about Caring for Aging Parents
Photo Credits: Hearing Aid by alexraths via BigStock; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com