Nearly one-third of people over the age of 65 are hard-of-hearing while nearly 50% of people over the age of 85 suffer from some form of hearing loss. Because hearing loss is usually a gradual process that begins in one’s forties, it is commonly not recognized until it is significant. It is important to be able to recognize signs of hearing loss, have it diagnosed and treated.
Symptoms of hearing loss:
• Have trouble hearing over the telephone,
• Find it hard to follow conversations when two or more people are talking,
• Need to turn up the TV volume so loud that others complain,
• Have a problem hearing because of background noise,
• Sense that others seem to mumble, or
• Can't understand when women and children speak to you.
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Hearing loss in seniors can lead to others mistakenly thinking that seniors are confused, difficult or apathetic. Additionally, the senior may be embarrassed by the loss and resist seeking out medical help. The inability to fully communicate can lead to frustration and isolation. The key here is communication and enlisting the following strategies to bring these seniors back into the conversation:
• Face the hearing impaired person directly, on the same level and in good light whenever possible. Position yourself so that the light is shining on the speaker's face, not in the eyes of the listener.
• Do not talk from another room. Not being able to see each other when talking is a common reason people have difficulty understanding what is said.
• Speak clearly, slowly, distinctly, but naturally, without shouting or exaggerating mouth movements. Shouting distorts the sound of speech and may make speech reading more difficult.
• Say the person's name before beginning a conversation. This gives the listener a chance to focus attention and reduces the chance of missing words at the beginning of the conversation.
• Avoid talking too rapidly or using sentences that are too complex. Slow down a little, pause between sentences or phrases, and wait to make sure you have been understood before going on.
• Keep your hands away from your face while talking. If you are eating, chewing, smoking, etc. while talking, your speech will be more difficult to understand. Beards and moustaches can also interfere with the ability of the hearing impaired to speech read.
• If the hearing impaired listener hears better in one ear than the other, try to make a point of remembering which ear is better so that you will know where to position yourself.
• Be aware of possible distortion of sounds for the hearing impaired person. They may hear your voice, but still may have difficulty understanding some words.
• Most hearing impaired people have greater difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise. Try to minimize extraneous noise when talking.
• Some people with hearing loss are very sensitive to loud sounds. This reduced tolerance for loud sounds is not uncommon. Avoid situations where there will be loud sounds when possible.
• If the hearing impaired person has difficulty understanding a particular phrase or word, try to find a different way of saying the same thing, rather than repeating the original words over and over.
• Acquaint the listener with the general topic of the conversation. Avoid sudden changes of topic. If the subject is changed, tell the hearing impaired person what you are talking about now. In a group setting, repeat questions or key facts before continuing with the discussion.
• If you are giving specific information -- such as time, place or phone numbers -- to someone who is hearing impaired, have them repeat the specifics back to you. Many numbers and words sound alike.
• Whenever possible, provide pertinent information in writing, such as directions, schedules, work assignments, etc.
• Recognize that everyone, especially the hard-of-hearing, has a harder time hearing and understanding when ill or tired.
• Pay attention to the listener. A puzzled look may indicate misunderstanding. Tactfully ask the hearing impaired person if they understood you, or ask leading questions so you know your message got across.
• Take turns speaking and avoid interrupting other speakers.
• Enroll in aural rehabilitation classes with your hearing impaired spouse or friend.

The best course of action to take if you suspect hearing loss is to see a doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause and treatments available. If you suspect hearing loss in a senior that you are caring for or that you care about, remember to be compassionate about discussing the possibility of the loss, and be supportive regarding the options and opportunity for treatment. Motivation for the decision to seek treatment should be to increase the quality of life by providing the opportunity to participate in all social interactions to the best of their ability.

Gabriela F. Brown, CSA
Constant Companions Home Care

Author's Bio: 

Gabriela Brown graduated from Mt. Carmel High School in 1987. One of her first jobs out of high school was at Escondido Convalescent Center being trained as a Certified Nursing Assistant. In 1988, she took her place as a freshman at Mary Baldwin College where she majored in Political Science and Philosophy with a pre-law focus, graduating in 1992. To help pay her way through college, she alternated between waiting tables and caregiving on the weekends. After graduation her first professional position was Community Relations Director at the Home Health Care division of The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas (UTMB) using her public policy skills to educate the university’s doctors on sweeping changes in Medicare benefits for Home Health Care as well as to contribute to the growth of the Home Health Agency. In the end she was responsible for the community relations efforts for UTMB Home Health in 3 separate counties that are all served by UTMB physicians. After UTMB, Gabriela worked as an Account Executive and Business Development Director for a publicly held Medicare-certified home health agency, a Skilled Nursing Facility and later as the Community Relations Coordinator for a public hospital-based Home Health and Hospice in Kirkland, WA. All of this experience set the stage to be recruited back to San Diego as the Business Development Director to grow a fledgling home care (private pay) branch of a large home care company in CA. In 1.5 years Gabriela was able to increase revenue from 120K to 1.4M. In 2003, Gabriela founded Constant Companions Home Care, a private pay, non-medical home care agency serving both San Diego and S. Riverside Counties. Gabriela’s daily duties cover the spectrum from Intake/assessment and ongoing case management to caregiver hiring, staffing and supervision.
In February of 2012, Gabriela passed the certification exam to become a Certified Senior Advisor as a member of the Society of Certified Senior Advisors.