Hearing loss may be challenging for the aging parent, as well as the family caregiver. This may be especially true when combined with other health concerns such as Parkinson’s Disease or dementia. Miscommunication and misunderstanding may complicate caregiving concerns and contribute to the challenges in the care of elderly parents or other loved ones.
Most people experience some degree of hearing loss as they age, and in some cases the lose may be severe. While some people with hearing issues are able to take advantage of hearing aids and other helpful devices, it remains necessary to keep effective communication skills in mind.
What are some ways that those taking care of elderly loved ones with hearing issues can keep the lines of communication flowing freely? A few suggestions follow.
Think about the physical presentation
- Make sure you are facing the person to whom you are speaking (and, of course, that you are in the same room). People with hearing loss can more easily understand what is being said if they are able to see lips moving and pick up meanings from body language and facial cues.
- Keep the lights up. The person to whom you are speaking will be able to see you better if there is ample lighting in the room and if it focuses on your face; standing in front of a lamp or other light source may put your face in shadow or may create an aura that may be distracting to the other person.
- Turn off distractions. If the radio or television is on, turn it off. Pressing mute on the TV is an option, but be aware that the visuals from the television may still be a distraction.
Think about how you will communicate
- Involve the listener. Make sure you have his or her attention before you begin; this can usually be accomplished just by saying the person’s name and waiting for him or her to focus on you.
- Take your time. Many of us talk very rapidly, but that can cause our words to become a little garbled or indistinct; in conversation with someone with full hearing, that may not be a big issue, but it can be a stumbling block in this situation. Not only might an individual with hearing loss not understand what you say, but that one might spend time trying to decipher your message and thus not pay attention to what comes afterward. Don’t be afraid to pause between sentences or to let something sink in.
- Speak loudly if necessary, but don’t shout. Shouting can be off-putting.
- Use your mouth just for talking. Talking with your mouth full of food or while chewing gum will make it more difficult for others to understand you. Also, be aware of habits such as covering your mouth during conversation.
- Make it clear when one subject has ended, and another is beginning. Saying something like “So, that’s all I wanted to say about that. There’s something else on my mind, though, and it’s this.”
Think about what to do differently
- Look for visual clues. If the person to whom you are speaking looks puzzled, politely and tactfully ask whether you should repeat or explain anything.
- Rephrase as needed. If a point just doesn’t seem to be getting across, find new ways of saying it.
- Be aware of pitch and tone. Some voice levels are easier to hear and understand than others. For instance, many hearing loss sufferers cannot hear high-end frequencies and a high woman’s voice can be more difficult to hear than a deeper man’s voice.
- Utilize tools and devices. Various hearing-assistive devices such as television listening systems allow the hearing impaired to hear the TV via a sound amplification system without disrupting the entire family.
Some people who care for elderly patients get frustrated at not being heard; that is very understandable, but it pays to remember that the listener is likely as frustrated, if not more so, than the caregiver.