Do I Need Assistive Technology for Hearing Loss?

May is National Speech-Language-Hearing Month, and also Older Adults Awareness Month. Today’s post is for everyone dealing with the onset of age-related hearing loss.

Two individuals with gray hair conversing outdoors; one seated in a wheelchair, the other closeby, gesturing as if sharing a story. Lush greenery forms the background.

Not “Getting It” Like You Used To

It’s hard admitting that your hearing isn’t what it used to be. Besides the purely practical challenges, hearing loss can hurt relationships: many younger/nondisabled people aren’t sure how to connect with someone who doesn’t react typically to what’s said aloud. Particularly if it’s someone they’ve known for years, who never before had trouble understanding.

Plus, after a “certain age,” communications difficulties may be mistaken for dementia symptoms—one more thing to worry about, reasonably or not.

Is It Your Hearing?

Hearing loss and dementia can go together: hearing loss is even a risk factor for developing dementia in the first place. However, the problem is likely in your ears if you’re keeping up with regular, non-hearing-related tasks; if you usually know where you’re going and what you’re doing; and if, when you find “lost” things, you remember how they got where they now are.

And if:

  • You struggle to pick out lower-volume or higher-pitched sounds, even when someone directs your attention to them.
  • You increasingly need to look people in the face to understand what they’re saying.
  • You find yourself regularly turning up the volume on Zoom meetings, television programs, and the like—sometimes to the point that others complain it hurts their ears.

When in doubt, consult an audiologist first. If it’s not (or not only) your hearing, you can still get advice on other possible causes.

If You Need Assistive Technology

Fortunately, hearing-loss solutions aren’t limited to expensive hearing aids that just turn up the volume. Modern options include:

  • Over-the-counter hearing aids (less complicated to order than prescription aids, and usually less expensive).
  • “Bone conduction” hearing aids for people whose ear structures don’t work with traditional aids.
  • Cochlear implants to send sound directly to the hearing nerve.

If you prefer captioning technology, most video and meeting software now has it built in. (Look for a box marked “Captions” or “CC.”) Today’s captioning softwares also have translation capacity, allowing viewers to receive “subtitles” in preferred languages.

Even everyday conversation can now be seen as well as heard. The latest: real-time caption generators that can be worn like eyeglasses, allowing you to still look people in the face while reading what they’re saying.

“I Don’t Have Hearing Loss, I Don’t Need Assistive Technology!”

But the best technology in the world can’t assist someone who won’t use it. What if it’s your parent, grandparent, or good friend who’s showing hearing-loss symptoms—and they refuse to admit that anything might be wrong?

Arguing rarely helps; and when someone is in denial because they fear losing independence and quality of life, that’s the worst time to imply you’re telling them anything for their own good. So when you raise the subject, stay objective; listen more than you talk; and present your suggestions as just that—ideas to get the other party thinking for themselves. If you aren’t getting anywhere or don’t trust yourself to start the conversation, consult a wise friend or professional counselor.

Finally, know the rules of communicating verbally with someone who has hearing impairment:

  • Besides looking them in the face, give them a clear view of your face. Also, check that the area is well lit (and that your head isn’t “backlit”).
  • Don’t shout: it’s disrespectful and usually makes you even harder to understand. Speak slowly and clearly even if you have to raise your voice.
  • Don’t get annoyed if asked to repeat yourself. Remember that they aren’t deliberately tuning you out.
  • Again, be a good listener and a polite talker. If you want what’s best for your loved one, allow them to be at their best.

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