Maintaining independence is a goal for many older adults. The idea of moving in with family or to an assisted living facility can be unsettling for some.
Unfortunately, declining health, decreased hearing and vision, balance disorders and risk of falling all threaten to limit one’s level of independence. In addition to health concerns, there may be safety concerns, especially for those who live alone. Thankfully, technology exists today that provides seniors and those living alone with a greater possibility to maintain some level of independence even as their health issues increase.
Imagine your concern if you called to check on a loved one who lived alone and no one answered the phone. Panic may set in after several phone calls go unanswered and a trip to the house results in no answer at the door. Only after finding grandma blissfully unaware of all your excitement can you finally relax.
But the relief is short lived when you consider the magnitude of this problem. If grandma doesn’t always hear the telephone, what reassurance is there that she would hear the smoke detector if she were sleeping? And if she doesn’t hear the doorbell or knocking at the door would she be aware of an unwelcome intruder who gained entrance through a window?
Before you become too depressed at the gloominess of the situation, consider some of the technology available to offer assistance.
We’ve all seen the commercial for “Help… I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” The personal emergency response service, which goes by several names including Lifeline, Life Alert and Senior Safety, responds to any health or safety concern, not just falls. Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, subscribers press a waterproof button that they wear at all times whenever they need to call for help. A close neighbor is usually dispatched to check on the caller. But when a serious emergency occurs, an ambulance is dispatched. Most of the area hospitals offer this service for a $20-30 monthly fee.
Good hearing is critical for maintaining an independent lifestyle. Don’t rely on others to interpret what your physician had to say at your last appointment. How can you ask questions about your health when you didn’t hear what the doctor said?
For those living alone, good hearing is invaluable for safety reasons. The excuse that you live alone and there is nothing to hear would be true were it not for criminals who prey on the elderly. You need to be able to hear if a window breaks or there is an unusual sound outside.
In 1999, the National Council on Aging found that older people with untreated hearing loss suffer more than those who have hearing loss and use hearing aids. Those who choose not to treat their hearing loss are more likely to report; sadness and depression, worry and anxiety, paranoia, less social activity, emotional turmoil and insecurity.
Have you ever walked up to the closed door of a house and been able to hear every word of the blaring television? Sometimes your entrance startles the homeowner because he or she didn’t hear the doorbell or pounding. TV Ears were invented for those with mild hearing loss who need the volume on the television louder than what is comfortable for others. While wearing a wireless headset, you set your own volume and tone while others listen to the television volume at their own level. However, in the above example, if your television is that loud you probably have more than a mild hearing loss.
There are a variety of telephones available that amplify both the ringer volume and the speaker volume. There are also accessories that can be added to telephones to alert of an incoming call, such as one that causes a lamp to flash when the telephone is ringing. Simply being able to hear the phone will result in peace of mind for your loved ones who call to check on you.
Smoke detectors generate so much noise that even those with significant hearing loss are likely to hear them. Yet, there are those who do not hear the alarm without the help of hearing aids and since hearing aids are removed before going to bed, there are even more who would not be awakened from a deep sleep by the sound. It is imperative that the smoke alarm is able to awaken the hearing-impaired sleeper. In addition to amplified alarms, there are also alarms that will flash a lamp or strobe light and vibrate a pillow.
Waking up on time for an appointment doesn’t seem like a big deal. That is, unless you are in the predicament that you know you will not hear the alarm. While some of us are fortunate enough to wake up at a set time and may not need an alarm clock, we may not do so well if we had to awaken a few hours earlier than normal to catch a plane or be ready for a ride to an appointment. How well are you going to sleep when you keep waking to check the clock out of fear of oversleeping? This situation can be very stressful. Just as with the other products mentioned, alarm clocks are available that will vibrate a pillow or flash a strobe light.
In many instances, declining health issues creep up on us gradually and we may not be aware the extent of our limitations. Loved ones, as a matter of concern, may notice these changes better than the person suffering with the condition.
With advancements in technology, today’s seniors are able to sustain an independent lifestyle longer provided that they use the technology and resources that are available.
Rebecca Krukemyer, AuD, is an audiologist in private practice in Pemberville. She can be reached at Portage Valley Hearing, 133 E. Front St, 419-287-2201,