The difference is YOU

This is about a time when my grandparents were still around so blessings were a norm and sharing a roof was no big deal. We used to listen to tales woven from their own experiences. We’ve been through wars, famine, and the abundance of various eras. These stories enticed us and we looked forward to hearing them. My parents met the needs of my grandparents. They housed them, clothed them, and sheltered them. Fast forward to today, I have independent parents who are ready with a tale when there is a listening ear. They live life on their terms. They are self-sufficient and need minimal supervision. All generations of grandparents have one common factor that challenges their lives – loss of hearing. Although their lives are different they face similar challenges. As a result, the life of the senior is crippled, whether it be my grandparents or parents.

I came across some astounding numbers. In India, according to the Population Census 2011, there were nearly 104 million senior persons (aged 60 years or above); 53 million females and 51 million males. United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge India released a report that suggests that the number of senior persons is expected to grow to 173 million by 2026. According to which approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. My friend’s grandfather was part of these numbers. It was a trying time for the family and I did my best to be by his side.

With worried faces, we heard the doctor talk about hearing loss. “Hearing loss is a common ailment that seniors experience”, he said. I quickly googled and read that age-related hearing loss was known as Presbycusis. It occurs due to physical changes in the inner ear and brain. Diabetes and poor circulation also tend to trigger  hearing loss. The doctor continued, “Unfortunately some medications have side effects like hearing loss”. External factors like loud noises or smoking would also be harmful to hearing, his mother added. The doctor then checked about the other members in the family to be certain that there is no family history of hearing loss.

We were very disheartened to know that the hearing loss was progressive. The effect of deafness manifests itself in safety (physical), the ability to hold conversations (social), and state of mind (mental). His grandfather found himself in a disadvantageous position when: verbally alerted about a danger, responding to a distress siren, or just simply being instructed to follow a safety protocol. He was an active member of society. He was involved in many humanitarian activities and went for informal gatherings. Hearing loss put a damper on this. He felt frustrated and disheartened as he found it difficult to keep up with the conversation. We feared that if this continued he could become a recluse. It has been found that those with untreated hearing loss are more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia.

My friend and I put our research skills to the test. We knew there was a better and active way of dealing with this. Here are some of the ideas we came across, that might help you too:

  • Position yourself strategically, face the light and be at the same level as the elder when speaking to them
  • Preferably, speak when you are in the same room. Visuals play an important role in comprehension
  • Choose to speak slowly yet clearly. Avoid shouting as it distorts the voice
  • You could choose to begin your conversation with the person’s name. They will hear the conversation, as they would have heard the beginning.
  • The manner of delivery is important. You need to use simple words and pause frequently to check for comprehension before moving on
  • Position yourself on the side that the elder hears better
  • Ensure the environment is relatively silent. Background noise will hinder hearing
  • Choose words that are easy to comprehend. If the elder finds it difficult to understand a particular word use an alternative. Repeating the same word will only frustrate
  • Help the elder keep up with the conversation. Summarise at regular intervals and let them know when the topic changes
  • Reaffirm any specific information like phone numbers, names, and other such details
  • Provide information in writing when possible
  • Be empathetic towards the elder when the person is sick
  • Pay attention to the elder. Their body language will hold clues to their level of comprehension
  • Minimize interruptions, take turns to put forth your point

Hearing loss amongst seniors cannot be stopped but it sure can be reduced. We could curtail repetitive exposure to loud noises. One should ensure that they don’t hear jarring music or loud sounds. If they are a part of an environment where loud sounds are inevitable, they can use ear protection. Early detection and early treatment is the best way to treat hearing loss.

Like our grandparents, our parents are vulnerable to hearing loss too. Let’s take it upon ourselves to facilitate early detection and management of hearing loss. Our parents deserve to live a full life. We need to take care of their mental health, sense of safety, and self-confidence. This in turn will bring about a positive feeling and maintain good relationships in the family.

Most importantly, be mindful when amongst your parents. The biggest difference is what YOU can make. 

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