Age-related hearing loss, known as Presbycusis, is the most common type of adult hearing loss, affecting 75% of those over the age of 75. Older people may not want to admit they are suffering with hearing loss due to embarrassment or feelings of frustration, and this often leads to them being mistakenly thought of as confused or uncooperative.
Older adults who experience problems with hearing are at a greater risk of developing dementia, as memory and concentration can decline faster; so treating hearing problems is incredibly important for cognitive health.
Older people often don’t like to make a ‘fuss’, or admit that parts of their bodies may be failing with age, so if you are caring for an elderly relative, or live with an older person, how can you spot the signs they might be struggling with hearing loss?
You might notice that they find it hard to follow conversations where two or more people are talking, or have trouble hearing someone over the phone. Background noise might be a problem for them, or they might accuse you of mumbling. Maybe when you visit the TV volume is through the roof, or they simply often ask you to repeat what you have just said.
Because age-related hearing loss usually happens gradually over time, and in both ears, often an older person might not even be aware that they have lost some of their hearing ability. So, what can you do to help an older person with hearing loss to lead a more normal life?
Convincing them to get a proper medical diagnosis is a good start. Sometimes problems with hearing can be down to Tinnitus, a condition that presents as ringing, clicking, or buzzing in the ears, and is often the first sign of hearing loss in older adults.
Hearing loss can be symptoms of other problems
It can also be a symptom of high blood pressure, or a side effect of certain medications, it can even be caused by something as simple as earwax blocking the ear canal – so well worth getting it checked out, not just hoping it will go away. A doctor will be able to check that the hearing loss isn’t down to a burst eardrum, an infection or virus, or a condition such as diabetes or heart condition.
Maybe the problem is something as simple as a blocked ear canal and can be treated, and maybe it isn’t, or maybe it is something that can be improved by a hearing aid. The simple fact of the matter is that all too often hearing loss is just a fact of life when it comes to getting older, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that you as a relative, friend, or carer of an elderly person can do to make things a little easier for them. Such as:
Speak a little louder and slower than normal
There’s no need to shout, just be aware that you need to up the volume a little, and at a speed that remains natural, but still allows the person time to catch each word you say.
Repeat yourself if necessary, maybe using different words each time, as some sounds might be easier to distinguish than others.
Always make sure you are facing the person when you are speaking and maintain eye contact
This will make all the difference when it comes to someone with hearing loss being able to understand what you are saying – especially if they find lip reading helpful.
It can be useful to use hand gestures or facial expressions when you are talking to an older person with hearing issues to give some visual clues to what you are saying.
If you are at a social gathering, or anywhere with a lot of background noise, ie: a restaurant, try to find a quieter area to talk, rather than just speaking at a higher volume.
Above all, it is important to be patient; as frustrating as it may be to converse with an older person who is suffering from hearing loss, it is even more frustrating and stressful for them, so always be positive and kind in your responses so that they can continue to navigate the world around them with your help.
How can Care in Kent help?
If you know a loved one who might need some additional support, then contact the Care in Kent team who would be happy to help.