Female Right at Home caregiver helping a senior female client use a tablet while sitting on a couch together Female Right at Home caregiver helping a senior female client use a tablet while sitting on a couch together

Tips and Technologies To Assist Older Adults Experiencing Hearing Loss

Older adults are often depicted as hard of hearing in popular entertainment, and it turns out that is more fact than stereotype. Hearing loss occurs in about half of all adults in their 70s and affects 80% of individuals age 85 and older. Hearing loss can be due to aging, but disease and injury can also cause impaired hearing. Nonetheless, just because an older adult is experiencing diminished hearing, it doesn’t mean they should have a diminished quality of life. Since May is Better Hearing Month, now is the perfect time to look at tips for older loved ones who may be experiencing diminished hearing and the technology options that might be able to help.

The Risks of Untreated Hearing Loss

Diminished hearing can affect one’s quality of life and even become a disability that puts older adults at risk. Hearing is, after all, one of the seven senses by which humans interact with the world.

Whether hearing loss happens gradually or suddenly, it robs someone of the full use of a basic faculty. Not being able to understand speech in conversation or what’s being said in a sermon, lecture, movie, or TV show is frustrating and can lead to isolation and loneliness in the elderly and even an increased prevalence of symptoms of depression.

In certain settings, hearing loss can prevent someone from getting vital instructions or directions. The inability to hear a ring or knock at the door, much less a phone or alarm sound, may be an annoyance or inconvenience most of the time, but it becomes a safety issue when there’s a threat or emergency the older person needs to know about.

Untreated hearing loss can also increase the risk of dementia, according to a study from Johns Hopkins. The study found that mild hearing loss doubled a person’s risk of developing dementia, and a moderate loss more than tripled the risk. Using hearing aids or an assistive device can actually delay or prevent dementia.

How To Help an Older Loved One Experiencing Hearing Loss

If you are a family caregiver of a senior experiencing hearing loss, it’s best to be proactive about the issue. Being proactive starts with your loved one acknowledging they have hearing loss and wanting to do something about it. An individual may feel embarrassed or self-conscious about their hearing loss and, therefore, not acknowledge it. But ignoring, denying, or masking the problem will only make things harder and more awkward, especially if the problem worsens over time.

When your senior loved one is ready, help guide them to choosing a solution, whether an assisted listening device or an alerting system, that best meets their needs. It is always advised to do this in consultation with a qualified medical professional who can ensure no other health conditions are contributing to the hearing loss.

Here are some other ways you can be proactive in regards to your older loved one’s hearing loss:

  • Face your older loved one when you’re talking to them; it also helps to get their attention before speaking.
  • Use facial expressions and hand gestures as appropriate.
  • Mute or reduce background noise as much as possible, including any radio, television, or computer noise in the same room.
  • Raise your voice and speak slowly and clearly.
  • When going out with others, pick quiet settings.
  • If needed, write out questions or information on a notepad.
  • If appropriate, let family and friends know of the hearing loss and recommend these tips to help them engage with your loved one.

Tips for Seeking Medical Advice for Hearing Loss

If your aging loved one’s hearing problems persist and disrupt daily living, it’s time to consider a hearing aid. Gently broach the subject and encourage your senior loved one to get examined. It could be as simple as removing earwax, which can be done in a physician’s office. If that isn’t an issue, your loved one can receive a referral to an otolaryngologist, often called an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. If they determine that a hearing aid is needed, an audiologist would become involved to help decide the best option.

If your older loved one agrees to get tested, help them complete these steps in preparation for their examination:

  • Make notes of symptoms, including when they first appeared, any progression or changes, and whether the problem affects one or both ears; also, ask friends and family for input on what they’ve observed.
  • Bring a medical history that may relate to hearing problems, such as any ear infections and surgeries, and a list of medicines, vitamins, and supplements.
  • Document work and recreation history, including repeated exposure to high noise levels.

If you, as a family caregiver, cannot attend the appointment with your loved one, ensure another family member or a friend can go instead as an advocate and to provide support.

Assisted Hearing Devices and Hearing Aid Options

The Hearing Loss Association of America is one organization among many that can be a good source of information for various devices and technologies that address hearing problems. The most basic technology is the hearing aid—a small electronic device that amplifies sound. Even with a hearing aid, a space’s acoustics and ambient sounds impact how clearly or not one can make out speech. Merely turning up the device’s volume isn’t enough for many users, as hearing aids have a limited effective range and often can’t separate background noise from the voices and sounds one wants to hear.

An audiologist sets a hearing aid’s internal controls, which determine which pitches are amplified and at what volume. The user sets the external controls.

Hearing aids need periodic adjustments and checks to ensure they work properly. This is important because wearing a hearing aid that no longer works actually blocks sound.

There are various options for hearing aids and other devices that can be surgically implanted, such as bone conduction hearing aids or cochlear implants.

There are also assisted listening devices that use technology to help those with diminished hearing, including ones that make a phone or doorbell ring louder, amplify sound and phones, and turn up the volume on answering machines.

Alerting Systems Can Increase Safety

Alerting systems and devices can help increase safety for those with hearing loss by sending signals to the home to produce a visual (flashing light) or vibrating alert. Some devices work with existing alarms and doorbells, eliminating the need for additional electrical wiring. These include carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, weather alerts, and other alarms.

A few devices, such as doorbells with volume control and visual alert smoke detectors, may be available at large chain stores or online stores. However, many devices are only available from specialty retailers.

Assistive Communication Tools and Systems Can Help, Too

For folks with mild to moderate hearing loss, visual assistive communication tools and apps allow people to read what is being said. Some products designed for the workplace that can also be used at home include:

  • Ava (a smart captioning app that displays live captions on a smartphone or computer).
  • Live Transcribe and other speech recognition programs that change speech into text that can be read in real time.
  • Apple Dictation (built-in voice-to-text dictation).
  • Text telephones.
  • Captioned telephones that allow for spoken conversation while providing a transcript of the other person’s words on a readout panel or computer screen as backup.
  • Closed-captioning TV (all TVs with screens at least 13 inches wide must have built-in captioning).

Hearing Loss Resources for You

Here is information and resources available for you to investigate on behalf of your older loved one:

  • The Hearing Loss Association of America offers handy resources, including their links, and is organized by topic.
  • Check insurance; your older loved one’s health care insurance provider may provide hearing aid coverage.
  • If your senior loved one is a Medicaid recipient, they may qualify for free or discounted hearing aids.
  • Veterans may qualify for assistance through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Search for hearing aid banks or agencies by city or state to learn what they provide.
  • Check with local civic organizations such as Kiwanis and Lions for any help they may offer with hearing aids.

Hearing Loss Is Not a Normal Part of Aging

There are many reasons to address hearing loss as it happens. Gentle conversation with your aging loved one and consultation with medical advisers can help keep your loved one engaged and feeling included and help avoid further health problems.

How Right at Home Can Help

Right at Home’s in-home caregivers can help older adults get to their required medical appointments and stay socially connected. A wide range of other in-home care services is also available. Use our location finder to contact the office closest to you and consult an aging care specialist for more information.

Author Leo Adam Biga

Leo Adam Biga is a veteran freelance journalist and author who writes stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. The Omaha native and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate is the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Follow his work at https://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

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