It was 2019 when Jayanta Sengupta from Jharkhand first noticed his 88-year-old father Priyesh Chandra Sengupta watching TV at a high volume. He would also not respond when spoken to from a different room. After taking a hearing test, Priyesh was diagnosed with presbycusis (also known as age-related hearing loss) which is very common among the elderly. The doctors who treated Priyesh had a gentle advice for the family on how to speak to the elderly with hearing loss.
One of the first instructions was to maintain have eye contact while communicating with a person with hearing loss, and to start a conversation by addressing the person by his/her name. Using lip movements and signs whenever possible instead of yelling, shouting and making weird exaggerated mouth gestures.
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Jayanta recalls that the doctor didn’t prescribe any hearing aids, as the hearing loss was very mild. “But counselled us on how to communicate” Jayanta told Happiest Health, adding that, “He needs to be spoken to in a slow-paced manner, with patience and empathy.”
According to Dr Rohit Udaya Prasad, consultant, ENT and cochlear implant surgery, Aster RV hospital, Bengaluru, “Age-related hearing loss can pose roadblocks in their ability to communicate, leading to social withdrawal and isolation that can further affect their well-being.”
What is age-related hearing loss?
“Presbycusis or age-related hearing loss is a condition in which both ears start losing their hearing function,” says Dr Sudipta Chandra, ENT specialist, Belle Vue Clinic and Hospital, Kolkata.
“The degeneration of cochlear hair cells is the reason for impaired hearing during old age,” adds Dr Prasad.
Experts say that the active communication enhances emotional and physical well-being among the elderly, making them happier and healthier. Hearing loss can cause obstacles in communication, potentially causing feelings of loneliness and frustration.
Kolkata-based Gita Dey’s father Narayan (72) was suffering from hearing loss caused by age and an overdose of ear drops. Gita was her father’s primary caregiver. Narayan’s inability to comprehend what was being said would make her feel frustrated. Sensing Gita’s annoyance, Narayan would feel dejected.
He also felt lost during family gatherings and among relatives as he couldn’t keep up with their conversations.
“He gradually started withdrawing himself from social situations and growing increasingly quiet. “Seeing him isolate himself worried me. I realised that I needed to alter my approach of dealing with his condition,” says Gita.
When Gita observed that Narayan was not able to communicate even after wearing hearing aids, she altered her approach. Gradually, she modified her way of communication. She incorporated different methods such as giving lip cues in a slow and repetitive manner and writing words on paper. She started giving more time to her father to create a comfortable environment while speaking.
“I saw the spark in his eyes when he started understanding my words,” adds Gita.
Tips to enhance communication
According to Dr Ruchika Mittal, audiologist and speech-language pathologist, Mittal Clinic – Centre for Healthy Heart & Joyful Speech & Hearing, Delhi, “Maintaining a polite and respectful demeanour and body language is important when communicating with a person with hearing loss.”
She further lists the following ways to enhance communication:
- Communicating in a slow-paced manner.
- Explaining through pictures.
- Ensuring good lighting during communication.
- Avoiding communication with the elderly from other rooms and making sure that the narrator’s face is visible.
- Making them aware before changing any topic.
- Providing adequate lip cues for better understanding.
Hearing assistance for the elderly
“Hearing loss can be assisted by hearing aids. However, cochlear implantation is sometimes needed for a higher grade of hearing loss. Audiometry (a test to determine hearing ability) is important to measure the grade of hearing loss,” says Dr Prasad.
“Mild hearing loss doesn’t require any hearing aids, as it can be cured by medication,” adds Dr Chandra.
“Assistive listening devices are good if the elderly person doesn’t want to wear hearing aids,” adds Dr Mittal. She explains, “Assistive listening devices such as amplified telephone (specially designed phone which can amplify the sound for better hearing) makes hearing and communicating easier. Some wristbands can create vibration after receiving any sound.”
- Age-related hearing loss is caused by the degeneration of cochlear hair cells.
- Face and body language should be visible during communication.
- Hearing aids can assist them to hear clearly and properly.
- Kindness and empathy are keys to improve communication with the elderly with presbycusis.
- Lip cues can be an easy method to communicate with the elderly with hearing loss.
- Assistive listening devices can make communication easier for a hearing-impaired person.