Caregiver Tips on Improving Communication for Hearing Loss in Alzheimer’s
Christmas is a time when families get together and it is often then that we notice health changes in our relatives. In 2005 the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that about five million people worldwide were suffering from profound hearing loss. Fifty per cent of those are people over the age of 65 who are affected by age-related hearing loss. As most people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are in this age category, caregivers should be aware that hearing impairment or loss can exacerbate the symptoms of Alzheimer's.
People with Alzheimer's often have difficulty making sense of what they hear. It is made so much worse when hearing loss affects their ability to follow conversations and identify where sounds come from. This can increase their feelings of isolation and as well as confusion.
Health History for Congenital and Hereditary Hearing Problems
Some forms of hearing loss can be prevented. Early diagnosis can make a big difference to treatment outcomes. Congenital hearing impairment and loss should be picked up in early life but some hereditary conditions may only begin to affect communication in later life. Professional caregivers, as well as relatives, should be made aware by their family doctor of any potential for future hearing loss difficulties.
Regular Doctors Health Checkups are important to pick up any sign of hearing loss or diseases that may affect the ear.
Prompt Diagnosis and Treatment for Ear Problems. Any sign of infection must be treated quickly. People with more severe Alzheimer’s may indicate they have pain in their ears by rubbing the area. The area may be red or swollen, they may cry out if their ear is touched. Behavior can also suddenly change because of discomfort.
Regular Hearing Assessments/tests are especially important to assess any deterioration in hearing if someone with Alzheimer’s has had hearing problems or ear diseases in the past.
Hearing aids can improve things. Caregivers should encourage their use and make sure the device is on and fits well.
Improving your communication to improve theirs!
- To improve communication face the person you are talking to. Have good lighting so they can see your face. Speak clearly, concisely and in a friendly way.
- A large chalkboard with short simple reminders of day of the week, activities, meal times etc is helpful to orientate the person. They can also be used to aid communication.
- Reduce peripheral noise and distractions when you are speaking to the person with hearing loss.
- Continue to include the person in decision making whenever possible. Feeling you have some control over your environment is very important for maintaining skills, interest and for self-esteem.
- If you know that hearing loss is worse in one ear make sure seating arrangements allow for this.
- People with Alzheimer’s and hearing loss often find it easier to communicate on a one-to-one basis. At family gatherings make one person responsible for talking to them and including them in conversations. For example “ Marie just said she was going to Denver and said you were born there”