April 10, 2019

The sound of a baseball bat ringing over home plate. The sizzle of meat and vegetables as they hit a hot pan. A loved one’s voice, coming in over the phone. For many of us, there are so many important, meaningful sounds in our lives that it would be hard to name a favorite.

As U.S. News & World Report puts it:

“How we hear is one of the many incredible things our bodies do without conscious effort from us… this complex sense helps us build relationships and keeps us safe.”

Over time, though, it is quite common for sense of hearing to fade, due to any number of age-related factors. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 164 million people over age 65 with disabling hearing loss, worldwide. Here in the US, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have some difficulty hearing.

For many older adults, some age-related hearing loss is going to be a fact of life, and as a family caregiver, it’s important to know how you can help – particularly since the effects of hearing loss can go far beyond simple miscommunications. As the American Association of Family Physicians explains:

“Hearing loss can result in a number of adverse outcomes, including social isolation, depression, lower self-esteem, poorer quality of life, decreased functional status, and dementia.”

They also note that “older patients who are deaf or hard of hearing are at high risk of breakdowns in health care communication,” and in personal communication with friends and family members.

Certainly, there are many steps you and your senior loved one can take to help with gradual hearing loss, including looking into listening aids, or working with a physician, such as an audiologist or otolaryngologist.

And there are also many important everyday actions you can take as a family caregiver – including learning how to communicate with your elderly family as they start to experience major or minor hearing loss. Taking some time to rethink how you speak and how you listen, and helping other family members to do the same, can make it easier to keep up conversations with your senior family and friends, helping cut back on some of the social risks that the AFP warns about.

Want to improve your daily communication with older friends and family who may be hard of hearing? Here are a few expert-approved habits to adopt:

1.) Address the Person Directly

As you communicate with an older family member, try to address them as directly as possible, to make things clearer for the both of you. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t yell from the other room
  • When possible, always choose direct, face-to-face communication
  • Make sure you’re in good lighting, and make yourself easy to see
  • Before speaking, bring the other person into the conversation directly. Get their attention before you begin communicating – you might say their name, touch their arm, make clear eye contact, or so on

2.) Reduce Distractions

When holding a conversation with an older adult who may have difficulty hearing, it might help to reduce loud distractions, as well as visual impediments:

  • Turn down the volume on the radio or TV before you begin speaking
  • If possible, try to choose a quiet area with less background interference
  • Keep your face clear – try to keep your hands away from your mouth, and avoid chewing while speaking
  • Focus on conversing and avoid multitasking – emphasize speaking face to face, rather than trying to hold a conversation while you or your loved one is doing something else

3.) Speak Clearly

As the University of California San Francisco succinctly puts it: “Speak clearly, slowly, distinctly, but naturally, without shouting or exaggerating mouth movements.”

As you converse with your loved one, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Don’t speak too quietly (so your voice gets lost), or shout (which can cause distortion, especially if the listener is using auditory aids)
  • Avoid speaking too quickly
  • Try to keep your sentences short, and not too complex
  • Pronounce words fully and enunciate

4.) Be Ready to Rephrase

When talking with a senior loved one with some hearing loss, be prepared to make some light accommodations, including:

  • If your loved one can’t understand you, think of how you might say something differently, rather than attempting to repeat the same phrases over and over
  • Avoid sudden changes in the topic, and be ready to acquaint the listener to new conversation topics
  • Repeat questions or facts that may be relevant, to help bring your loved one up to speed in a group setting
  • If the information you’re conveying is important, have the listener repeat specifics back to you, to ensure that they’re understanding
  • If it’s absolutely essential to communicate, put it in writing

5.) Use Your Body Language

Communication is about so much more than words. When we talk, both sides of the conversation are also sending visual signals with their faces, hands, and body movements. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

  • When you’re speaking, be animated – small things like smiling, frowning, gesturing with your arms, or shaking or nodding your head can all help communicate tone and emphasize important concepts
  • Move closer to the listener, if you need to speak over background noise
  • Pay attention to the listener’s physical signals. For instance, are they favoring one ear over another? This could indicate how you should best communicate with them. Watch their facial expressions or body language for signs of confusion, understanding, or a response. Look for signals that the other person wants to keep talking. As UCSF puts it, it helps to “recognize that everyone, especially the hard-of-hearing, has a harder time hearing and understanding when ill or tired.”

Providing Care for Your Elderly Loved Ones

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.

Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one remain in the comfort of their own home. For our professional companions, communicating with the elderly and providing high quality care is a true passion. Our caregivers know the importance of sharing meals, playing games, and actively listening to our senior clients.

Have any more questions about fostering better communication between yourself and your aging loved ones? Interested in seeing what sets our home care services apart? Get in touch today to keep the conversation going. Looking for more? Be sure to follow us on social media, where we share our favorite tips and news on all things senior care from across the web.