Signs of Hearing Loss
Many loved ones will not tell their caregiver of an
onset of hearing loss, for fear of losing independence.
Instead, they become isolated, depressed, angry, lonely,
frustrated and even physically ill. Some telltale signs
are when a loved one withdraws from their normal social
activities, refuses to attend family and friend
gatherings, or doesn’t answer the phone anymore, saying
they were busy or unavailable. Any avoidance of
conversation is cause for concern.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services, Deaf and
Hard of Hearing Services Division, offers these
behaviors which may signal a struggle to hear properly.
A loved one may:
- have trouble distinguishing between words
that sound alike
- offer responses to questions that do not
make sense, have a hard time understanding women
- turn head to one side, or cup an ear to hear
- respond often with a smile and nod, but no
- have difficulty with conversation while
riding in a vehicle
- withdraw from group discussions and
hear the phone or doorbell, and
the volume on a TV or radio set extremely loud.
Some physical symptoms that may occur with hearing loss
include a ringing, roaring, hissing or buzzing in the
ear, also known as tinnitus; ear pain, itching or
irritation; fluid or pus leaking from the ear; and
vertigo. Caregivers can keep a watchful eye on their
loved one for these behaviors and physical symptoms.
If a caregiver suspects a hearing loss, it is important
to have it checked soon, in order to prevent problems
down the road. A loved one might resist, but this is
where the “caregiver persistence” and tough love come
The National Family Caregivers Alliance (NFCA) explains
how to handle some common objections a loved one may
raise to having their hearing checked.
The first common objection is that the “other people
simply aren’t talking loud enough.” In the ears of
a person with hearing loss, everyone is mumbling. A
caregiver can tell their loved one that it may be a
simple medical problem such as wax buildup and an exam
can rule out certain medical concerns and treat those
Second, many seniors are concerned with spending money.
They may say, “It would cost too much to get a hearing
aid!” The commitment associated with hearing aids or
other devices is looked at as permanent and thus, a
large cost. A caregiver must realize that while this is
true, a quality of life has its own cost. Both caregiver
and loved one must weigh their options once a hearing
loss is diagnosed.
And third, people of all ages are worried about
appearing “old.” A hearing aid only increases that
perception in many minds. The NFCA advises caregivers to
remind a loved one that continually asking people to
repeat themselves and being left out of conversation can
be a more visible indicator of age than a hearing aid.
Also, with today’s technology, hearing aids are less
imposing and noticeable than ever before.
If a caregiver is prepared to thwart excuses with a
little preparation before, a loved one will feel that
their caregiver is competent, educated and safe to care
for them. It will instill a confidence in a loved one
when a caregiver is knowledgeable and organized.
There are many ways to protect a loved one’s hearing and
make living with the condition as comfortable and
enjoyable as possible.
First, don’t shout! Many caregivers may think that
talking louder and slower is helpful, but in actuality,
it distorts the conversation even more for a person with
hearing loss. Professionals suggest speaking at a normal
speed and tone, with small modifications, is best.
Background noise is a huge deterrent for loved ones with
hearing loss. Try to eliminate these distractions as
much as possible. If at home and having a conversation,
turn off the TV or radio, fan or other electric device.
Shut windows if traffic noise is an issue.
After the noise is limited and a conversation can occur,
talking face-to-face is best. A group setting may be
hard for a person with hearing loss to catch multiple
In addition to these talking tips, there is some
physical maintenance which can help maintain a loved
one’s hearing. A caregiver can start by scheduling a
yearly physical. Many times, caregivers are running a
loved one to the doctor for a variety of ailments.
However, a yearly physical is one appointment not to be
overlooked. This is the best way to detect and also
prevent many medical problems.
Just as a person makes a yearly trip to the eye doctor
and needs a prescription to buy new glasses, every
person in their senior years should have their ears
checked as well. A hearing test will reveal what a loved
one may have been “missing” and not even known.
Exercise and eating healthy are as important to ear
health as to heart health. A healthy lifestyle leads to
increased focus and response in all areas of life,
including hearing. The body functions as a whole, so
nourishing it properly will reap benefits for a long
time. A caregiver should encourage a loved one to be
healthy in all aspects.
A caregiver must be an advocate for their loved one with
hearing loss. The first step is always education. Know the signs of hearing loss, and steps to take
following a diagnosis. Learn about the many
technological advances that can help a loved one live a
fulfilling life despite the challenges.
Many public places including hotels, churches, museums,
auditoriums, theaters, etc. provide assistive technology
for the hearing impaired. When it’s available, make sure
a loved one uses it. And if not available, explain to
the staff the importance of these devices. A little
planning ahead can make for a fun trip on the town and
eliminate a loved one’s feeling of being left out.
By learning the best ways to communicate, a caregiver
can pass along these tips to other family members and
friends. Simple strategies can increase communication,
lessen stress and promote an enjoyable time for all
Communication is always a two-way street. Whether the
loved one coping with the hearing loss or the caregiver
learning how to navigate new waters, it takes both
parties working together to have a successful outcome.
It’s both persons’ responsibility to do their best in
every situation and always show respect for the other’s
The Better Hearing Institute says that one of the most
loving things a caregiver can do is help their loved one
come to terms with their diagnosis. This may be even
harder than the actual purchase of hearing aids or
assistive devices. Loss of hearing is a scary venture
into uncharted waters for anyone with a recent
diagnosis. A caregiver should be a constant support
through the highs and lows of hearing loss. Once it’s
properly treated, both sides will be glad they addressed
the issue, together.
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