Hearing loss is more common than most people think, affecting 40 percent of adults over the age of 65.
The incidence of hearing loss increases to over 80 percent for people over the age of 80. For those who decide to improve their hearing through the use of hearing aids, the results are remarkable. Not only does the hearing improve, but according to a study conducted in 1999 by the National Committee on Aging, hearing aid users were more socially active and avoided longer periods of depression, worry, paranoia, and insecurity than those with hearing loss who did not use aids. This same study found that family and friends were more likely to notice these benefits than the actual hearing aid user.
In preparing new patients for amplification, an explanation of realistic expectations is necessary. Most seniors accept the reality that they won’t hear like they did when they were a teenager. For friends and family, it is an understatement to say that their behavior has an effect on the success of hearing aid use. Here are some tips for family, friends, and anybody else who has interactions with those struggling to hear;
• Talk at a normal volume; do not shout. The hearing aids, when working properly, will amplify speech appropriately. There are three good reasons why you should not shout. First, shouting distorts speech which makes speech difficult to understand. Shouting can also be uncomfortable for the person who wears hearing aids. And finally shouting gives the impression that you are angry even when you’re not.
If you feel that speaking loudly is the only way you can be heard, perhaps it is time to gently remind the wearer to have the hearing instruments cleaned and/or adjusted. Hearing aids do require routine cleanings and maintenance for peak performance.
• Slow down your rate of speech. As we get older, our brains do not process speech as quickly as before. A slower rate of speech with more pauses between phrases often results in better comprehension. Listening to teenagers and television sitcoms can be particularly difficult to understand because the dialogue is usually fast paced.
• Face the person to whom you are speaking. Many people are lip-readers (even if they don’t realize it). Furthermore, don’t start a conversation and continue talking while walking out of the room. Likewise, don’t attempt to have a conversation from one room to the next.
• Reduce ambient room noise while conversing. Background noise such as the television or radio can be distracting. It’s a sobering reality that as we get older we experience greater difficulty separating what we want to hear from what we don’t want to hear. This holds true even for those without hearing loss.
Sophisticated hearing instruments detect and amplify speech while at the same time reducing noise. However, you cannot expect hearing aids to pick and choose which voice you want to hear when two people are talking at the same time. Hearing aids will not amplify your voice over the voice on the television.
• Offer encouragement and support during the adjustment period. Let the wearer know that the television is lower and that you are repeating yourself less often. Avoid negative comments like “You didn’t hear me? Are you sure your hearing aids are working?”
These comments can be very frustrating for hearing aid wearers, leading them to believe that they are doing something wrong.
Many of these same suggestions can and should be used with those who have difficulty hearing, regardless of whether or not they wear hearing aids. It is important to recognize that hearing aids are “aids” – they do not restore hearing to normal, but they do significantly improve hearing in a variety of listening conditions.
They will improve speech clarity and make listening to conversation much more relaxing and enjoyable. You can expect to see a new level of confidence in the hearing aid user when they realize that what they think they heard in a conversation is indeed what was said.