Caring for a Patient with Hearing Loss

Working as a caregiver you will care for patients with different conditions, among which may be hearing loss. Just how common is hearing impairment in the United States? Here are some interesting figures to enlighten you:

1. Around 15% of people (37.5 million) in the United States aged 18 and above, have some hearing impairment.

2. The strongest predictor of hearing loss is age, with the most number of those affected belonging to the 60-69-year-old age group.

3. Among 20 to 69-year-old adults, men are twice as likely to have hearing loss as women.

4. One in every four older people aged 65 to 74 and one in every two of those 75 years old and above, has severe hearing impairment.

5. Only 30% of those aged 70 years old and above who could benefit from hearing aids has ever used them.

6. Only around 16% of those aged 20 to 69-years-old who could benefit from hearing aids has ever used them.

These numbers tell you that as a caregiver, there is a good chance that you will encounter a patient with hearing impairment in the span of your career. These helpful Q&A tips will save your day:

1. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET THE ATTENTION OF A PERSON WITH HEARING LOSS? Face the patient and make eye contact. You may need to gently touch their arm or shoulder to make sure that they are ready to understand you. Without getting their attention first, they may not recognize that you are speaking to them even if you are standing very close.

2. WHY IS THERE A NEED FOR GOOD LIGHTING WHEN SPEAKING WITH PATIENTS WHO ARE HEARING IMPAIRED? Patients with hearing loss will need a bright environment to read lips and to see facial expressions and body language of the person they are speaking to.

3. SHOULD I SPEAK LOUDER THAN USUAL? No. Speak with a normal tone, volume, and speed. Do not over-emphasize words with your lips.

4. DO I NEED TO AVOID CERTAIN GESTURES WHEN SPEAKING WITH A PERSON WITH HEARING DIFFICULTY? Yes, avoid putting your hands on or in front of your face.

5. I AM A MAN WITH A MUSTACHE AND A BEARD. WOULD THAT AFFECT THE WAY I COMMUNICATE? Yes. Facial hair makes it difficult to read lips and see facial expressions.

6. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THE PATIENT STILL CANNOT UNDERSTAND MY QUESTION? Try to rephrase your question. If this technique fails, have a communication board such as a whiteboard with markers or paper and pen on hand.

7. WHAT ARE MY RESPONSIBILITIES IF MY PATIENT WEARS A HEARING AID? Check with the care plan. You may need to help the patient clean their hearing aids and change the filters regularly. You may assist them in putting the hearing aids on and removing and storing them before bedtime. Make sure the hearing aid batteries are still working.

Caregivers must understand that hearing loss for most people does not happen overnight. It is a very slow progressive problem that develops over time. Hearing impairment may well be advanced even before patients notice they have difficulty hearing.

When caregivers see signs of undiagnosed hearing difficulty in a patient, they must report the problem to the supervisor and document their findings in the patient’s health record. This is an important part of the caregiver’s responsibilities because with poor hearing, patients do not get enough brain stimulation and they easily develop dementia, depression, decreased mental alertness, stress, and fatigue.

Most importantly, when caring for people who have a hearing impairment, caregivers must exercise patience because there might be a need to say things repeatedly and also to look for different ways to be understood.