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Caregiving Chronicles

News and analysis on caregiving topics in MetroWest and beyond.

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Caregiving Chronicles will present news and analysis on caregiving topics in MetroWest and around the world, in-depth Q&As with experts in fields related to caregiving and updates and announcements about caregiving resources available in MetroWest from CaregivingMetroWest.org Program Director Douglas Flynn.


Caregiving Chronicles Q&A: Caring for a loved one with hearing loss
By Douglas Flynn / January 30, 2018

Editor’s note: The Caregiving Chronicles blog has partnered with the Natick Visiting Nurse Association to bring additional expert information and advice to the MetroWest caregivers we strive to serve at CaregivingMetroWest.org. The Natick VNA has allowed Caregiving Chronicles to get some valuable insight from its staff for our ongoing series of Q&A sessions with caregiving experts.  

In this entry, we discuss issues involving hearing loss for older adults and discuss strategies for caring for a loved one with hearing loss. Providing insight is Juanita Allen Kingsley, Wilderness EMT, who is the Director of Business Development for Natick VNA. 

A health educator, she trains more than 2,000 people in the MetroWest region annually through her First Aid, Wilderness First Aid, CPR and AED classes in addition to the variety of health and safety programs she teaches. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Boston University and completed EMT training at Northeastern University. She received her Wilderness EMT training certification through Mountain Aid Training International. 

For more information, visit www.natickvna.org or call 508-651-1786.
 

Caregiving MetroWest: What are some signs to watch for that indicate your loved one is experiencing hearing loss or that their hearing loss is becoming more severe? 
Juanita Allen Kingsley: If your loved one seems more disconnected during conversations or doesn’t answer appropriately or hesitates to be in social situations where they might not be able to hear, then you should schedule a thorough exam with an audiologist. There may be a simple increase in ear wax that needs to be removed or it might be that hearing is indeed getting worse.

CGMW: What are some of the biggest issues involved with caring for someone with hearing loss? How can it contribute to other physical issues such as increasing the risk of falls or emotional issues such as depression
Kingsley:
 First and foremost, remember the impact of listening fatigue – a condition caused by the increased effort and exertion to listen and understand. It is exhausting to live with hearing loss. I have two very good hearing aids, yet any kind of conversation – in person or on the phone – is tiring. I struggle to hear and often won’t understand a sentence until I can identify a key word that makes the other words make sense. 

The research on the connection between falls and hearing loss is fascinating and profound. In a recent study by Johns Hopkins Medical School, researchers determined that even a mild degree of hearing loss tripled the risk of an accidental fall, with the risk increasing by 140 percent for every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss. 

There could be a few reasons that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of falls. One reason could be that with hearing loss, people have less environmental awareness to people, pets or other things going on around them. Spatial awareness – where the body is positioned in relation to other people and objects around it – could be another reason for increased falls. Many researchers point to cognitive overload as a hindrance to balance; those with hearing loss are using more of their mental resources to hear and interpret speech and other sounds. Simply, they have fewer resources left over to dedicate to maintaining balance. 

CGMW: What are some good ways to better communicate with someone with hearing loss? 
Kingsley:
 As someone with severe hearing loss, here are my suggestions for better communication: 

Ask the person, “Do you have your hearing aids in?” If they don’t, say, “Please put them in so we can have a satisfying conversation.” 
Make sure the person can see you when you start speaking. If you’re not near each other say the person’s name so he/she can turn toward you and watch you speak. 
Speak clearly, slowly and loudly enough. 
Don’t cover your mouth when you speak.  
Don’t ever hesitate using your hands when you talk – it’s so helpful! 
And if the person asks you to repeat yourself or says, “What did you say?” please DON”T EVER say “never mind.” Please be patient and repeat what you said.

CGMW: One of the primary issues for people suffering from dementia is rooted in the confusion the condition causes. Hearing loss can compound that confusion. What advice on caring for someone with dementia as well as hearing loss would you offer to combat that confusion and any other issues related to the combination of dementia and hearing loss?
Kingsley: 
When you communicate with someone who lives with both dementia and hearing loss, it’s key to eliminate distractions when conversing. Turn off the TV, don’t talk near the dishwasher when it’s going. Eliminate background noise and have good lighting, so the person can see you speak. 

Many of us count on lip reading as well as hearing to understand what’s going on. Being hard of hearing tends to isolate people from others. When you have to struggle to converse, you're less likely to want to socialize in groups or go out to restaurants. And being socially isolated has long been recognized as a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. 

Make careful choices about restaurants you go to, for instance – choose those with good lighting and as little background noise as possible. Don’t hesitate to ask for a table that’s away from the kitchen or the bar – areas that are noisier. 

CGMW: What should caregivers know about hearing aids and finding the right hearing aid for their loved one? 
Kingsley:
 There are some big changes in how we purchase hearing aids. The technology is advancing rapidly and prices are coming down. Last January, the President signed the OTC Hearing Aid Act, which is designed to enable adults with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss to access hearing aids without being seen by a hearing care professional. Getting hearing aids used to need an audiologist’s prescription. This is going to change. Preliminary studies show that hearing aid users are just as happy with devices they buy over the counter as the ones that they buy “the old fashioned way.”

CGMW: Are there any new technologies or other assistive devices that can help someone with hearing loss or their caregivers? 
Kingsley:
This is a very exciting time for technology that helps the hard of hearing. There are new devices that can help the hard of hearing know when there is someone at their door or whether the smoke alarm is ringing. Many of these devices use vibrations to alert the hard of hearing of an emergency. There are good apps that improve cell phone reception for those needing extra help. There are also terrific new phones for landlines that include captioning – so you can see the conversation at the same time as you hear it. 

CGMW: Are there any resources you can recommend to help someone care for a loved one with hearing loss? 
Kingsley:
 AARP has some good discounts on products that help the hard of hearing. There are two other organizations that are worth exploring for local support groups:  Hearing Loss Association of America, and the Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA) – another good education and support group. Another great website is www.healthyhearing.com.



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