While more than 26 million Americans over the age of 50 suffer from impaired hearing, just 14 percent of them—one out of every seven—use hearing aids, according to a report from The New York Times. Which begs the question: Why are so many seniors resistant to using these helpful devices, and what can caregivers do to support them in enjoying a higher quality of life through improved hearing and, by proxy, engagement with the world around them? Here’s a closer look.
Seniors and Hearing
Hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions impacting older people. And as they grow older, the problem worsens: By the age of 75, nearly half of seniors have hearing loss.
The consequences of managing hearing loss can be severe. Says the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), “Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor's advice, to respond to warnings, and to hear doorbells and alarms. It can also make it hard to enjoy talking with friends and family. All of this can be frustrating, embarrassing, and even dangerous.”
In fact, according to Dr. Frank Lin, assistant professor of otolaryngology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, even mild hearing loss can triple a senior’s risk of falling, while severe hearing loss can increase the dementia risk by five times. The clear takeaway for caregivers: Dealing with hearing loss is imperative.
The good news? A number of treatments are available for hearing loss, including hearing aids, cochlear implants, assistive listening devices, and lip reading/speech hearing. The bad news? Many seniors are resistant to these devices and aids.
The Denial Dilemma
Topping the list of reasons seniors scoff at the idea of wearing a hearing aid? Denial. According to audiologist and president of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, Dr. Eric Hagberg, as reported by the New York Times, “The average person has been having trouble hearing for seven to 10 years before they come in—they say it’s only been a few months, but we’ve found it’s years.”
Adds audiologist Linda Remensnyder, “The No. 1 thing I get from patients is ‘I hear what I want to hear.’ What they don’t understand is that in order to be fully engaged in life, you have to be fully engaged everywhere.”
Other deterrents to hearing aid adoption include vanity (although less so thanks to today’s less visible devices) and money: Hearing aids aren’t cheap, and they’re not covered by Medicare or most insurance plans. With price tags of up to $6,800, hearing aids can seem frustratingly out of range for many seniors—and for caregivers, too, who often end up compensating for hearing loss for the loved ones in their care.
The Role of Caregivers
Still, experts insist the upsides of hearing aids outweigh the downsides, making it worth the while of caregivers to intervene.
The first step for getting seniors to wear hearing aids? Getting them to acknowledge their hearing loss. Rather than repeating yourself and/or passing along information that might otherwise have been missed, stop repeating and relaying. This will not only draw attention to the problem, but it will also become tiresome for your aging loved one. Continues Dr. Hagberg, “Stop being a living hearing aid. Everybody has one—a seemingly helpful caregiver, husband or wife who feeds back the information so the other person doesn’t need to seek help.”
Introducing seniors to the latest incarnations of discreet hearing aids can also help them get over concerns about how wearing one will be perceived.
Lastly, enlisting the help of a certified audiologist can also be helpful—particularly because many doctors fail to test for hearing loss. Many audiologists offer payment plans which may make the high cost of hearing aids more manageable for budget-minded seniors.
And while hearing aids do take some getting used to and aren’t cure-alls, the rewards are many for seniors (and their caregivers) who make the leap to hearing aids. One 68-year-old told the New York Times of her new life with a hearing aid. “It’s thrilling,” she said. “I want to talk to everyone I know and say, ‘Get over the shyness about hearing aids–life can be better.’”
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