How to Cope When You Can't Hear

The good news

Plenty can be done to correct or cope with sensory impairment. Try these strategies to help compensate for declining vision, hearing, and more.

1. Get your ears checked

Ask your doctor to check your ears for earwax buildup, which can cause hearing problems but can be easily removed.

2. Consider a hearing aid

One in three Americans ages 50 to 59 suffers from hearing loss, and the number climbs to almost 45 percent for people 60 to 69. Although doctors can’t restore normal hearing, technological innovations have led to a new generation of hearing aids and cochlear implants that are more effective than ever.

3. Grab the best seat

Try to choose seats away from busy doorways in theaters, and request a quiet section of a restaurant when eating out so you can hear conversation at the table better.

4. Go for contrast

Contrasting colors can make it easier to see clearly. Paint doorways darker than walls, use light-colored dinnerware on a dark tablecloth, and install dark switch plates on light-colored walls.

5. Be in the clear

Keep stairways well-lit and make sure stair edges are clearly visible. If stairways are carpeted, use light-colored coverings for better visibility instead of coverings that are dark or have busy patterns.

6. Have good taste

Enhance flavors by seasoning meals with spices like ginger, nutmeg, basil, and oregano (not salt) or add mustard, hot pepper, onions, or lemon or lime juice. Make foods sweeter by increasing vanilla or cinnamon in a recipe

7. Chew on it

Take time to chew food thoroughly. As food breaks down, more molecules will come into contact with your taste buds, improving the sense of taste.

8. Check use-by dates

If you can’t depend on your sense of smell to recognize the odor of spoiled food, be attentive to your stored foods’ use-by dates and discard food that’s been in the refrigerator for more than four or five days.

9. Put detectors to work

Install smoke and gas/carbon monoxide detectors to alert you to hazards, such as fire and gas leaks, that you may not be able to smell. Keep areas well-ventilated when using household chemicals.

10. Protect yourself

Wear heat-resistant or silicone gloves or oven mitts when cooking and grilling if you have a reduced sense of touch. Use heating pads with caution to avoid burns.

11. Keep your cool

Your water heater’s temperature should be no higher than 120° F to prevent scalding and burns.

12. Check your feet

Inspect the bottom of your feet regularly for cuts, blisters, or other injuries that you may not feel but that may still need medical attention—especially important for those with diabetes.

William Dale, M.D., Ph.D.
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William Dale, M.D., Ph.D.

William Dale, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine; chief, section of geriatrics and palliative medicine, The University of Chicago Medicine, Chicago: