“Have I met Steve? Oh, I thought you said there was something on my sleeve,” laughed one senior with hearing loss — and a sense of humor.
While humor is a wonderful attribute in older people (or in anyone, at any age), hearing loss is no laughing matter.
Some seniors, in fact, tend to isolate themselves when their hearing loss becomes severe, reasoning that it’s just too difficult to communicate with others. Yet social isolation is a major cause for concern among older adults, which is precisely why assisted living communities fill this essential need.
It’s important to understand the ramifications of hearing loss on a senior’s self-perception, so you can support your loved one in adjusting to this sensory impairment.
Hearing Loss in Later Life: An Audible Issue
According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, 48 million Americans have significant hearing loss. One in three people over age 65 has some degree of hearing loss; beyond age 75, this figure rises to two out of three.
Although some kinds of hearing loss can be inherited, or illness-induced, age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, describes the gradual, irreversible loss of hearing that occurs as we grow older. By our mid-70s, the majority of us will have some difficulty hearing what’s being said, even with hearing aids, which amplify sound but do not clarify speech.
A conductive hearing loss, which indicates a problem bringing sound from the environment to the inner ear, may be medically correctable, and if not, hearing aids typically help sufficiently to enable the senior to function normally.
A sensorineural hearing loss such as presbycusis, on the other hand, means there may be nerve damage to the inner ear, or to the auditory nerve. In this case, a hearing aid may be somewhat helpful.
But as presbycusis continues to worsen, a senior may feel he or she has no choice but to abstain from social interaction. To add insult to injury, those who don’t know the senior very well might presume the person is developing dementia when they do not respond, or answer a question inappropriately — when the truth is, they couldn’t hear what was said!
While some studies indicate that hearing loss may be an indirect risk factor for dementia, it’s understandable that a senior without cognitive decline might prefer to avoid socializing rather than risk others thinking they have memory loss. But this is not the most viable solution.
Is Hearing Impairment Affecting Your Loved One?
This 8-point assessment from the National Institutes of Health can help you and your loved one determine whether there is a hearing problem that needs to be addressed. If a senior answer is “yes” to three or more questions, they may need to see an otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in diseases of the ear, nose, throat, and neck) or audiologist (hearing specialist):
- Do I have a problem hearing on a landline telephone or a cell phone?
- Do I have trouble hearing in a noisy environment?
- Is it hard for me to follow a conversation when two or more people talk at the same time?
- Do I have to strain to understand a conversation?
- Do many people seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?
- Do I misunderstand what others are saying?
- Do I often ask people to repeat themselves?
- Do others complain that I turn the TV volume up too high?
Assistive Listening for Assisted Living
Beyond hearing aids, state-of-the-art assistive listening devices (ALDs) can be a boon for people with hearing loss.
Hearing loops, for instance, take the concept of hearing aids to the next level. A hearing loop (technically known as an audio frequency induction loop system, or AFILS) is a specialized sound system that works in conjunction with hearing aids but eliminates confusing background noise so a senior can hear what matters.
When a room is wired as a hearing loop, a hidden copper wire transmits sound via a magnetic field. A tiny telecoil, or t-coil, built into most hearing aids acts as a miniature wireless receiver, picking up the signal and converting it into customized sound that is specific to the individual’s hearing loss — minus the extraneous sounds that can make even the best digital hearing aids so frustrating for those with severe hearing impairment.
Hearing loops are effective in one-to-one communication, or to enable groups to hear clearly in a large area, such as a conference room or movie theatre.
How Eversound Engages Seniors With Hearing Loss
At The Kensington White Plains we use a similar type of enhanced audio system known as Eversound, which empowers assisted living communities to deliver extraordinary levels of care.
Referred to as an “engagement amplifier”, Eversound is a wireless hearing technology designed for older adults to improve engagement and participation at group events. Eversound is focused on ending social isolation by addressing the challenges of age-related hearing loss.
Eversound connects all residents to a central transmitter that can be connected to any audio source. The difference between Eversound and a hearing loop is, with Eversound participants wear lightweight headphones.
This assistive listening system is inclusive, fostering engagement among residents who may have been reticent to get involved before, due to their hearing impairment. We’re delighted that our Memory Care Activities Supervisor, Donna Porchi, is Eversound certified, as are many other team members.
At The Kensington, We Hear You
While the rest of the world is plugged up and plugged in, our team at The Kensington White Plains is always listening to our beloved senior residents. Texting may substitute for conversation among the young, but it also cancels out the attunement that’s possible when we really hear — and connect — with what another person is saying.
At The Kensington White Plains, we promise to love and care for your family as we do our own. Our Director of Assisted Living, Cosme Navarro, even lists his primary attribute as “listener”. He knows, as we all do, that nurturing and caring for our residents is what sets The Kensington apart.
If your loved one is concerned about moving to assisted living due to his or her hearing loss, allow us to put everyone’s mind at ease. We understand the unique needs of our beloved senior residents, especially those with hearing impairment. We listen to what they say, and we listen beyond the words. Let’s talk soon!