Preventing elderly isolation due to hearing loss
By far the most common cause of hearing loss is ageing, with three quarters of deaf people being over the age of 60. Often this hearing loss comes on gradually, and sadly, many older people simply ignore the symptoms, or view them as a natural part of ageing about which nothing can be done.
The impact of hearing loss should not be underestimated though. As hearing declines, the strain of trying to follow what’s going on and hear friends and relatives can become exhausting, while misunderstanding conversations can get embarrassing. This can all too quickly lead to isolation and loneliness as the person gradually begins to withdraw and starts avoiding previously enjoyed social occasions.
Cognitive Neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw explains,
“Those losing their hearing are often too embarrassed or exhausted to continue socialising which means they become more isolated than ever. Loved ones of visitors also become frustrated with repeating themselves, or can become patronising which again breaks the social circle.
These amazing people with decades of life experience and a wealth of knowledge end up losing their autonomy, are unable to maintain a prominent role in society and face unacceptable isolation due to lack of community support and the absence of social interaction.”
Despite the challenges hearing loss brings, it is still perfectly possible for older people to still live independently and enjoy life - provided they get the right support….
Ways for friends and carers to help
- Get help.
Ignoring a loss of hearing is detrimental to a person’s health and wellbeing. It’s important therefore to seek medical support. Some hearing loss may be unavoidable but some isn’t. A build-up of wax in the ears for instance can be easily sorted out by syringing, while hearing aids may be able to ease the problem.
- Communicate in a clear and reassuring way to help put the person at ease.
Make sure you’re looking at the person when you’re talking to them so they can see your face. Use clear speech - a little slower and louder than usual with clear lip patterns, but not too exaggerated.
- Allow plenty of time.
Avoiding background noise is always helpful, so taking the time to move somewhere quieter before starting a conversation can be time well spent. Turn off the TV or radio and remember to check hearing aids are turned on and working.
- Make sure the person has understood what is being said before carrying on.
Be aware that if a person is smiling or nodding it doesn’t necessarily mean they have understood you. Keep your body language open and friendly to avoid coming over as stressed or irritated, and be prepared to repeat things until you get an active response.
- Talk to family and friends to make sure everyone is aware of the hearing difficulties.
This will reduce the risk of embarrassment and frustration on both sides, and will hopefully increase the person’s confidence.
- Help the person to stay sociable, active and involved in both family gatherings and community social events.
Dr Shaw believes the key to preventing social isolation is community action. “Isolation kills people, and it kills people slowly, so we must make every effort to help those suffering from deafness to remain autonomous, have integrity and to be heard.”
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