Caregiver tips: When your loved one has hearing loss

Hearing Healthy – Updated for October 2021

Author: Joy Victory

The late actor Edward Albert once said, “The simple act of caregiving is heroic.” All across the U.S., family members and loved ones have dedicated themselves to helping those who can’t help themselves.

According to the 2020 AARP Caregivers Report, approximately 41.8 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the past year. One in five Americans takes care of either a child or adult (or both). Many care recipients have complicated medical situations—with frailty, dementia, and mobility issues being common reasons older adults need care. 

Woman's hand supporting an older woman on walker
If you’re taking care of someone with 
hearing loss, be mindful of the communication
challenges you might face. 

So, how often does hearing loss factor into the daily lives of caregivers? The AARP report didn’t include that information, but the NIDCD reports that more than 50 percent of those over the age of 75 have hearing loss. Hearing loss, whether treated or untreated, comes with a host of other implications that caregivers need to be aware of. 

First, seniors with hearing loss will have challenges communicating, and you may need to learn key communication tools to help them interact with you and others. They’re also more at risk for health problems, both physical and emotional. These health risks include feelings of depression and isolation as well as cognitive decline.

Other physical risks include the risk of falls, which are three times more likely to occur even with mild hearing loss, and the inability to hear warnings and alarms. And since most general practitioners do not routinely screen for hearing loss, it often falls to the caregiver to make sure matters of hearing health are tended to. This means either requesting a hearing screening during a regular check-up or making an appointment with a hearing health professional.

Signs of hearing loss

Those providing care to a person with hearing loss can face other challenges as well. Everything from attending doctor’s appointments and to simply watching a television program requires factoring hearing loss into the equation. Caregivers may find themselves compensating for their loved one’s hearing loss. It is helpful for caretakers to learn about hearing loss so they can help the person they are caring for live a happy and fulfilled life—which reduces the burden on you, as well. 

“The simple act of caregiving is heroic.” – Edward Albert

There are numerous early warning signs that can indicate that the person you are caring for might have hearing loss. Make an appointment to see a hearing healthcare professional if the person you are caring for:

  • Frequently asks you or others to repeat themselves
  • Has to increase the volume on the TV to uncomfortable levels
  • Reports that sounds are muffled
  • Seems more withdrawn or easily fatigued by listening to conversation
  • Seems to have trouble hearing amid background noise
  • Has difficulty distinguishing consonant sounds, such as “K” and “T,” and hearing children’s and women’s voices

Hearing aid treatment can ease many stressors

If you suspect there is hearing loss, take action. Hearing aids have health benefits, such as delaying the onset of dementia. Not to mention they make communication much easier!

To get started, first make an appointment with a hearing care care professional, preferably one that specializes in senior care. Next, since hearing aids are a considerable expense, when helping the person in your care shop for hearing aids, knowing a few things going in can help you make the right decision.

  • Educate yourself about the costs involved prior to shopping for hearing aids. Hearing aids typically cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500 per device, but Medicare, AARP and the VA all have programs that can offset the cost. 
  • There are many different types and styles of hearing aids available, so provide as much information as possible to the hearing care professional about the capabilities, lifestyle and needs of the person in your care.
  • Request a demonstration of any device that is chosen to make sure it meets the needs of the person in your care.
  • Remember, hearing aids should never cause pain or discomfort to the person wearing them. If there is pain, they are not fitted correctly.
  • In some cases, cochlear implants may be recommended. 

Hearing aid maintenance 101

After the person in your care has received his hearing aids, depending on his cognitive and fine motor skills, it might fall to you as the caregiver to perform basic cleaning and maintenance tasks on hearing aids. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Hearing aids need regular cleaning to remove dust and earwax in order to perform properly. The soft brush or cloth that comes with them can be used for this purpose.
  • Never insert anything into the receiver, as it can be easily damaged. 
  • Filters need to be changed on a regular basis to prevent wax and dirt buildup.
  • Make sure the person in your care removes hearing aids overnight. Storing them in a dry-kit is helpful to remove any moisture that has built up during the course of the day and to keep the devices safe overnight.
  • Change batteries on a regular basis, or set them on their recharger if they are rechargeable.
  • See your hearing care professional on a regular basis for more thorough cleaning, adjustments and any other necessary maintenance. 

Illustration with tips on talking to someone with hearing loss.

Caregiving and hearing loss

As a caregiver to a person with hearing loss, there is much to be considered  to make sure the person in your care can hear the world around him and enjoy as much independence as possible. Some general caregiver guidelines to keep in mind are:

  • Be patient. Learning as much as you can about the difficulties hearing loss presents to those who have it and the emotional/psychological implications will help you in being empathetic to the feelings and emotions of the person in your care.
  • Find out about the resources in your area that can help assist the person in your care, from looped public spaces to hearing care professionals to organizations that can assist with the cost of hearing aids.
  • Educate yourself about hearing loss so you can distinguish fact from fiction. Your loved one’s hearing care provider can be a big help in this area.
  • Watch out for environmental factors that could worsen the hearing loss. These include harmful noise levels and medications that have hearing loss as a side effect.
  • Making small changes in the home environment can reduce frustration and allow the person in your care to feel more independent. These include amplified phones, flashing or vibrating alarms and television-specific assistive listening devices (ALDs).
  • Talk to the person you are caring for to find out what works best for them in terms of communication. Do they prefer you to speak near one ear versus the other, for example, or is it easier for them if they can see your lips move? 

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