Caregiving has long been an integral part of health treatment in the United States, providing necessary services to aging adults and people with disabilities that allow them to live more independently and in their own homes. In recent years, more and more Americans have taken on caregiving responsibilities for loved ones; current data shows that about 53 million people in the United States act as “informal” or family caregivers, or people who give care to friends and family without payment. Family caregivers now account for more than one in five Americans.
Despite the fact that caregiving is so common, no two caregiving situations are exactly alike. Care is highly specialized to each recipient, presenting a puzzle of challenges to those giving care—and that can become even more complex with a condition such as hearing loss in the mix.
Despite the potential challenges that hearing loss may introduce to caregiving, there are ways to ease the stress on both caregiver and the person living with hearing loss. By tailoring your caregiving to address the impacts of hearing loss, you can provide more meaningful assistance and support to your loved one throughout their hearing loss journey.
Strategies for addressing hearing loss as a caregiver aren’t drastically different from general approaches to caregiving. However, as you incorporate ways to navigate hearing loss into your caregiving routine, it’s important to understand the ways in which hearing loss can impact a person’s mental, emotional and physical health. Here are seven caregiving tips to help your loved one with hearing loss feel more comfortable and confident as they move through the world.
Each person experiences hearing loss differently, depending on the severity of their condition and which solutions they have chosen to address it. This also means that each person will have their own preferred communication methods and style. Have an open and honest conversation with your loved ones and allow them to determine what works best as the two of you communicate. This might include adaptations like speaking near one ear versus the other, or sitting in a position that allows them to see your lips move as you speak. Not only do these conversations allow the person receiving care to take the lead and have a sense of autonomy in their own care, but having this conversation early on can help alleviate stress and miscommunication down the road. Keep in mind that this is a conversation that can—and should—be revisited if conditions change or you find challenges in your original plan.
While hearing loss commonly happens as we age, there are several health-related risk factors that can make the condition worse:
One major risk factor is ototoxic medications. This includes any substance that might negatively affect the inner ear and its sensory cells. Because the inner ear regulates both hearing and balance, exposure to thse drugs can result in hearing loss and impaired balance. If your loved one is prescribed medication that is classified as ototoxic, keep a log of what they take, stick to the recommended dosage and pay attention to changes in their symptoms that indicate a negative reaction. If you have any questions about their medicine use, ask their healthcare provider to help find the right balance of treating medical conditions and protecting their hearng health.
If your loved one is also going through chemotherapy, there may be side effects that can impact their hearing. Certain medications and radiation therapy techniques can negatively impact the inner ear, causing fluid build-up and damage to the sensitive inner ear. As your loved one undergoes chemotherapy, monitor their hearing health and look for any signs of hearing loss to discuss with a doctor as needed.
No matter the age of the person receiving care, hearing loss can happen and become worse for anyone who’s exposed to loud noises. Listening to loud noises (classified as sounds over 85 decibels) for too long damages the fine hair-like nerve cells in the inner ear that make hearing possible. That damage causes permanent hearing loss over time. Familiarize yourself with our decibel chart to better understand when sound exposure can get dangerous for the person living with hearing loss. Encourage them to wear ear protection if they have a job or a hobby that puts them in dangerous noise environments.
We know that regular physical movement is beneficial for our cardiovascular system, but it is also supports our hearing. Exercise raises the heart rate, which helps the heart pump oxygen into blood vessels that carry nutrient-rich blood throughout the body and helps the brain process sound. Incorporating at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day into a schedule can also be useful in preventing the balance issues and cognitive decline that can come with hearing loss. Work with the person living with hearing loss to find a daily fitness routine that they enjoy and is viable for their physical ability. You can even find an activity for you to enjoy together! Just be sure to establish a routine for cleaning and drying out their hearing aids after working up a sweat.
While you may learn the best ways to navigate the needs of your loved one with hearing loss, not everyone knows how to successfully cope with the obstacle of hearing loss and make conversations comfortable. No matter if you and your loved one are communicating with a relative at home or out with a stranger, step up to act as an advocate for their needs. Gently remind others to speak clearly and naturally without yelling, utilize facial expressions and hand gestures, and ask questions as needed to make conversation flow more smoothly. Offering this assistance might seem intrusive or difficult at first, but it becomes easier with time and helps the person with hearing loss to feel more confident in social life.
Home should be a welcoming place to relax and unwind. By making both low- and high-tech adjustments, you can help create a space that is both comfortable and conducive to hearing. In areas where your loved one may be having conversations, position furniture and in a way that allows for everyone to see one another. You can also place lights in areas that will illuminate faces to see more clearly. Depending on the person’s level of hearing loss, consider more high-tech solutions to pair with their hearing aids. This can include TV remotes that mute hearing aids, TV streamers that transmit sound into hearing aids, Bluetooth audio clips to connect to smartphones for phone calls, and personal microphones to amplify a single conversation in a busy environment. No matter which solutions you and your loved one with hearing loss choose, you can help reduce frustration and help the person in your care feel more independent at home.
Caregiving, especially for someone with hearing loss, can be a difficult task, but you don’t have to do it alone. Most communities have resources for people with hearing loss, from support groups to better hearing tools. Not only do these resources offer opportunities for the person in your care to get involved in their community, but it can also help alleviate some of the stress of caregiving.
Whether it’s an in-person get-together or virtual meetings, groups like the Hearing Loss Association of America offer support group sessions across the country. Here, people living with specific hearing impairment support needs can share their experiences with others who have a personal understanding of their situation and can provide support through their journey. Find a meeting location near you to discover the powerful effects that being in community with others can have.
In recent years, venues like theaters, museums and amphitheaters have installed hearing loop systems for visitors with hearing aids. These systems allow telecoil hearing aid users to better hear the sound in an area by switching their hearing aids to a t-coil setting. Look for blue posted signs with a white ear logo or use the locator tool to find venues that offer this technology near you.
If your loved one is in need of hearing aids, but is unable to get them because of a financial barrier, the Miracle-Ear Foundation’s Gift of Sound hearing aid program is designed to meet the needs of people who otherwise aren’t able to afford hearing health solutions. Recipients receive hearing aids that are fitted to meet their specific needs, as well as the free aftercare and check-ins that are part of the Miracle-Ear Advantage. Review eligibility requirements and what the Gift of Sound could offer the person in your care.
Caregiving requires an enormous amount of time, energy and commitment, and even when you’re caring for someone you love dearly, it can still be a challenge. As you provide care, be sure to take care of yourself and your own emotional needs. Find a support group for caregivers in your community to discuss your experience and share caregiving tips, and set aside times to take breaks and reset. Explore resources from the National Alliance for Caregiving to find a support network near you.
No matter what level of hearing loss the person in your care may have, their hearing care professional is here to provide support. Whether it's a baseline test to determine their specific level of hearing loss, or providing recommendations for the best type of hearing loss, or providing recommendations for the best type of hearing aid for them, hearing care professionals offer licensed, qualified medical expertise and hearing loss tips to help you and your loved one navigate their hearing loss successfully.
Caregiving, especially caring for a hard-of-hearing patient, isn’t without its challenges, but resources are available to make caregiving easier for caregivers and people receiving care alike. By implementing these caregiving tips and meaningful strategies to support your loved one’s hearing loss today, you can provide effective support that allows them to continue to enjoy their favorite parts of life.