As a caregiver, it is sometimes hard to know what exactly is ailing your spouse or loved one. Maybe she is no longer responding to questions that you ask or has become less willing to engage in phone conversations or casual chats. Perhaps she no longer wants to see family or friends. She is withdrawn and uncommunicative. You fear the worst, but the culprit might simply be hearing loss.
Hearing loss sneaks up on people making the signs easy to miss. For the person with hearing loss, it may seem like everyone has started to mumble or the TV sounds garbled. They assume it is everyone else’s fault since they hear well in some situations, just not in restaurants or when many people are talking at once like at holiday celebrations. Because the changes can occur gradually, it is often easier for the caregiver to notice the change first.
Know The Signs Of Hearing Loss
- She says “What” frequently. If you feel like you are asked to repeat yourself a lot, hearing problems may be the cause.
- It is hard for her to understand children. With age-related hearing loss, the high pitch sounds are often lost first. This makes it harder to hear children and women.
- He plays the TV very loudly. This is often the first sign for any caregiver because it can be very disruptive to others sharing the home.
- He hears you better at home where it is quiet than at a coffee shop or at the mall. Background noise makes it more difficult for people with hearing loss to understand speech.
- She avoids social situations and talking on the phone. With hearing loss, communication can prove exhausting. For many people, it is just too much effort so they isolate themselves.
What Can A Caregiver Do To Help?
The first step is to get your loved one’s hearing tested. This knowledge is critical to making informed decisions that could enhance their quality of life. Hearing tests can sometimes be given at a primary care doctor, but a referral to an audiologist might be needed. Alternatively, there is the National Hearing Test, a scientifically validated, inexpensive and confidential test that is done over the phone. You can read more about this at nationalhearingtest.org.
Once a hearing loss is confirmed, there are many ways caregivers can assist.
- Encourage her to try hearing aids. This will require several audiologist visits and can be quite expensive, but for someone with a severe to profound hearing loss, it is often the best option. For more mild hearing loss, over the counter options are worth trying. See point #2.
- Experiment with hearables. There are many helpful products on the market focused on enhancing speech. These products include offerings by Bose, NuHeara, SoundWorldand others. Most have a no-risk 30-day trial period and do not look like traditional hearing aids.
- Turn on the closed captioning. Captions can boost enjoyment of TV watching for the entire family because the volume can be lower, but the understanding greater. In addition, there are relatively inexpensive devices that can transmit the TV sound directly to headphones worn by the person with hearing loss so she can adjust the volume without disturbing others.
- Get her a captioned phone. You use a captioned phone just like a regular phone, except there is a live captioner on the line who types out what everyone is saying. The person with hearing loss can read the captions as well as listen to the voice on the line. In most cases this service is free! Providers of captioned phones include CapTel, CaptionCall and others.
- Use communication best practices. Communication is a two-way street and both the caregiver and the person with hearing loss can benefit by using common sense strategies like getting the person’s attention before speaking and always facing the person to help with lip reading. You can find more best practice communication tips here.