In January 2020, a senior health website named Clear Living conducted a study on the effect of hearing loss on all facets of life. In this study, it was found that communication with others was the most heavily impacted area of life.
As one might assume, losing your hearing can put up a few roadblocks when it comes to communicating with friends or loved ones. Caring for someone with hearing loss can be taxing – both parties can get frustrated over the communication blocks, and the process can become quite grinding. It can even lead to cognitive decline, as mental stimulation through conversation lessens over time.
But it doesn’t have to – indeed, there are several ways to move beyond hearing loss and retain audiological independence. And while these roadblocks could frustrate anyone, the elderly are the most at risk of both experiencing hearing loss, and undergoing its more frustrating side effects.
What’s the problem with poor communication?
With everyone texting and emailing, it can be hard to remember that words are only one aspect of communicating with someone else.
For example, the phrase “great job” can be interpreted very differently based on how it’s said. An emphatic “great job!” can only be a good thing, while an apprehensive sarcastic “great job…” isn’t such a nice thing to hear.
When you have hearing loss, you can miss some of the nuances in the spoken word. While it probably won’t get to the point where you’ll be mixing up “Great job!” and “Great job…”, some subtext may be completely missed, making things more confusing and unclear.
Poor communication doesn’t just mean getting frustrated due to missing out on words. It can lead to real cognitive issues, like depression, memory loss, and even dementia. As sad as it is to hear, enjoying some lifelong hobbies is often severely impeded by hearing loss:
- “Difficulty hearing women’s voices at plays and films.”
- “I don’t go out to parties or do anything fun anymore.”
How the elderly struggle with hearing loss
While these effects can hinder anyone’s way of life, older people and those in need of care are in a particularly at-risk spot. The study includes comments from older people struggling with hearing loss, and how it has affected their quality of life, finding that 39% of people found that their communication was negatively affected by hearing loss, with a further 8% feeling isolated and lonely. Here’s what some of them had to say:
- “ [I’m] not participating in family gatherings, feeling left out.”
- “It has drastically affected my quality of life. I can no longer participate in normal conversations because I cannot hear nor understand the words being spoken.”
- “It’s seriously become an issue. I’m leaving him because of it. I doubt he’ll hear me leave.”
It can be difficult to come to terms with hearing loss when you’ve been used to hearing naturally for 50-60 years. This is why some of them are often resistant to arranging or attending hearing tests – as people often don’t want to confirm their fears.
In fact, a massive 66% of people said that they had anxieties before undergoing their first hearing test, with 41% of them saying they were worried about their hearing loss being officially diagnosed.
When asked about their hearing loss anxieties, here are some answers that were given:
- “[I was worried about] The results of how bad my hearing is”
- “[I was worried about] Understanding the test/the words.”
Ways to help seniors overcome their hearing loss
Tell them to put on their hearing aid
A nice easy one to start – if they’ve been prescribed a hearing aid, then do yourself and your loved one a favor and ask them to wear it whenever they’re communicating with someone.
Ideally they’d be wearing this from when they wake up to when they go to bed, but if they refuse to, it’s a good idea for them to at least put it on for dinner or gatherings. Not only does a hearing aid help its user hear more effectively, but it also stops their hearing loss (and its ensuing implications) from advancing further.
However, these benefits pale in comparison to a hearing aid’s greatest gift – giving its user independence. Even if someone is under care, they’ll gain a huge amount of freedom and confidence by being able to hear once more.
Make eye contact
A nice rule for conversation in general, but especially for someone who’s hard of hearing. The spoken word gets a lot of context from the shape of the mouth as it’s said.
You may have heard of the McGurk effect – an illusion that occurs when the auditory component of one sound is paired with the visual component of another sound, leading to the perception of a third sound.
Watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWGeUztTkRA
Looking at someone when you’re talking to them is crucial to conveying the whole message. People suffering from hearing loss are often susceptible to missing high frequency sounds, like t, f, sh, and s, meaning they can experience a flurry of gaps in the conversation.
This issue can be remedied by maintaining eye contact, and by allowing full view of your mouth (so not covering your face with your hands, for example).
Arrange a hearing test
If this is the first you’re noticing a decline in the individual’s hearing ability, then the best thing that you can do is book them a hearing test. After all, you shouldn’t be panicking about potential hearing loss when it might be something as inconsequential as a buildup of wax in the ear canal.
Hearing tests are quick, easy, and usually free. If you or someone you care for is experiencing hearing loss, this is always the first step you should take.
Whether you’re communicating with someone who has hearing loss, or dealing with it yourself, remember not to get frustrated.
It can be hard being asked to repeat yourself several times, or missing something someone has said in a busy room, but getting mad at yourself or at the other person will only strain the relationship and make both parties upset.
This may be the hardest bit of advice to follow, as you might need to be reminded of it a lot, but be patient with each other and the whole process of communication will flow a lot smoother.
Humans are innately social creatures, and even the most secluded introvert could do with some healthy conversation every now and then. It’s an important part of keeping our mental faculties running and up to date, and should be treated as seriously as diet or exercise. Hearing loss makes the brain work harder than usual to keep up with conversation, so taking care of your ears can save you plenty of undue mental stress.
As found in the study discussed earlier, healthy hearing leads to healthier and happier relationships for both the individual and their loved ones, as well as better health overall. This is priceless for both carers and those whom they care for.
With recent events, the elderly may be more isolated than ever before. It’s important to be aware of the difficulties that come alongside hearing loss, and to do our best to accommodate them.
Clear Living 7 Ways to Help Older People during Coronavirus Infographic Clear Living