Being a caregiver for someone who is living with a chronic condition or who just needs help as abilities change with age, can be challenging. Over time, new issues can arise, such as diminished ability to hear for the person who is receiving care.
In this article, we will explore the different types of hearing loss and tips on how a caregiver can be supportive in a respectful way as conditions evolve.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are many reasons that people can lose their hearing and experience the impacts of this change in their life.
AGE-RELATED HEARING LOSS occurs in people over age 50 gradually due to changes in the ear or auditory nerve. The medical term for this is presbycusis.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, age-related hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults and one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss and nearly 50% of people over age 75 have difficulty hearing. This creates an intersection as the people who are most likely to need home care services are also experiencing changes in hearing abilities.
CONDUCTIVE HEARING LOSS can happen when earwax or an object becomes lodged in the middle ear, or there has been an injury, which may prevent sound waves from getting to the inner ear. This is more common in children and may be alleviated with surgery.
SUDDEN SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS and SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS describe damage to inner ear, which can be the result of changes in this part of the body due to aging, exposure to loud noise, injury, certain illness, drug use or heredity. This is not treatable with surgery, but Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss, which occurs in a matter of a few days, should be seen by a doctor or healthcare provider.
There can also be a mix of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
Causes of hearing loss in adults can include:
- Certain prescription drugs
- Circulatory problems such as high blood pressure
- Illness and infection
- Head injuries
- Loud noises
- Hereditary conditions
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss for Caregivers to Pay Attention To
Often people do not want to acknowledge a change in their abilities, such as hearing. It’s important for a caregiver—whether a family member or a trained professional—to be aware of the signs that someone may be experiencing hearing loss.
- Is the person in your care frequently asking others to speak more slowly and clearly?
- Is the person you care for withdrawing from conversations that they used to enjoy?
- Has there been a change in how this person attends social functions, and are they avoiding socializing?
- Does your care recipient show difficulty in understanding words, especially when in a crowded room?
- Have they increased the volume on the TV or radio to an uncomfortable level for people with typical hearing?
If these symptoms appear, it’s best to schedule an appointment with their health care provider, who may refer them to an audiologist for additional testing. With a sudden loss of hearing, contact a doctor immediately.
Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends that adults conduct a baseline hearing test with their healthcare provider or an audiologist before experiencing any hearing loss to get a baseline. This way, when and if any problems do come up, there is an understanding of the severity of the issue.
How Hearing Loss Impacts Independence for Seniors and Wellbeing
A change in hearing can impact more than just a few missed words or conversations for an individual.
It is widely reported by health experts that a loss of hearing can lead to physical and emotional health problems, including depression and cognitive decline. A Johns Hopkins study found that mild hearing loss doubled the risk for dementia; a moderate loss of hearing tripled the risk of dementia; and severe hearing impairment could mean someone is five times more likely to develop dementia.
In this study, the authors found in looking at brain scans of people with hearing loss that the brain begins to atrophy at an accelerated rate. With decreased hearing there can be more social isolation and then less engagement with others and the brain is not being used as much, they explained.
There can also be an increased risk for falls in the newly hearing impaired. Again, there is an intersection of people who are at increased risk for falls and people whose hearing is probably getting worse with age. Hearing is an important part of maintaining balance, and experts note that a sense of dizziness does not need to be present for there to be a risk for falling.
Note that some studies have found age-related hearing loss may start around age 40. Even mild hearing loss can triple the chance of falling.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that each year, “more than one in four older people falls” and each fall can double the chances of another one. A home care consultation includes a falls risk assessment in the home, making people aware of possible tripping hazards and how to adapt the home to decrease the chance of serious injury in the event of a fall.
There can be a cycle of reduced hearing, less socializing, more sitting alone, and this all can be part of losing balance and independence. A professionally-trained caregiver can help with maintaining socialization by providing transportation to meet with friends, taking walks, assistance with following a healthcare provider’s instructions, and more.
Hearing Aids and Caregiving
While it is not the role of a caregiver—informal or paid—to get hearing aids for someone, they can be supportive in adapting to them when they are new to someone.
WHAT ARE THE HURDLES TO USING HEARING AIDS? Using hearing aids may seem like a solution as hearing loss is usually not curable. However, people will sometimes refuse to wear them.
“Hearing aids make me feel old.”
“Hearing aids are too expensive.”
“I can still hear just fine.”
These might be some of the comments made when someone is told that they need hearing aids. Johns Hopkins notes that 27 million Americans age 50 and older have some hearing loss, but only 1 in 7 is using a hearing aid today.
As a caregiver, it can be helpful to point out the potential positives to addressing any hearing issues in a timely manner:
- Health issues can begin with even mild hearing loss.
- Maintain more of your independence.
- Reduce the stress of a possible fall.
- Proper hearing can alert a person to a possible safety concern.
Caregivers can be there to observe possible hearing loss as well as to provide support for people who are living with a change in auditory abilities.