Hearing Loss and Memory Concerns

“Memory Matters” for ALL Ages (Program Link)

If a person with a hearing impairment is also experiencing memory problems, addressing those hearing concerns will need to become a priority. There are many options and strategies which can maximize communication and encourage continued participation in activities when there is a hearing loss.

Some things to think about:

1. Incidence  As many as 2/3rd of adults aged 70 years and older have a loss of hearing sensitivity.  It is associated with communication difficulties, impacts significantly a person’s quality of life and contributes to diminished physical and cognitive functioning. Since one of the keys to memory fitness is paying attention, if you do not hear what was said and do not try to verify the information, you are less likely to remember.

2.  Prevention  While there are many causes of hearing loss, 30 million people are exposed to hazardous sound levels on a regular basis. That can include loud music, work environments and well as firearms, other recreational exposures, and toys to name a few.

3. Options   First of all, not everyone is a good candidate for a hearing aid. In home health care, many older adults with hearing aides have them in the same drawer as their dentures. They find them not to be effective, have trouble putting in the batteries or are annoyed because of the amplification of background noises. Then there are those who cannot afford them, or lost one and decide not to replace it.

There are assistive listening devices what can be helpful and some of my patients have taken advantage of them. A gentleman wore one during a presentation I gave while making sure he took a seat in the front row. Another time I saw a granddaughter and grandmother having a normal conversation using a listening device in a restaurant.

How often have you entered a room where the volume on the television is so loud you cannot have a conversation? Some people with a hearing loss will use the closed captioning on their television while others may find there is too much information with the picture. Since it is not exactly in sync with the dialogue others may find it too frustrating. I know when I listen to some programs when the actors have an accent, it can be helpful.  It is worth a try.

One daughter told us her mom was going to take a lip reading class and she decided to join her so she could learn ways to better communicate with her mom. There are phones with amplification and new options keep coming on the scene. Check resources for options that might be helpful for your particular situations.

I put a fax machine in my mom’s apartment when I noticed our conversations became much more superficial. I would talk to her Sunday  morning, fax an overview of the week or questions then talk with her in the evening and our conversations flowed more like they used to. One of my patients had a fax next to her easy chair and her children and grandchild took turns sending her notes or photos just about every day. Her round the clock caregivers put them in albums and she loved going through them when her health was failing and she was homebound.

3. Memory Loss  There are times when a person has a hearing loss but it comes across as a memory problem, often because the person is bluffing and not verifying the information. Typically a hearing impaired person states they hear a few words, some fall in the gap and they are trying to figure that out while the conversation progresses. Recently a friend was concerned about her mother’s memory and once she was fitted for a hearing aid, she was no longer concerned. A similar situation recently occurred with a client whose family was annoyed with what they described as selective listening. Now the patient verifies information and his family gets his full attention before talking and the memory concerns have decreased.

My mom developed a hearing loss later in life and was not the best candidate for a hearing aid but years later she did get one. While her hearing loss had increased, she was also developing memory problems. Since she was excellent in creating compensatory strategies for her memory issues, it took awhile to realize there was a memory component.

When communicating with a person with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, it is essential to utilize strategies that can maximize that person’s ability to receive information. It happens that some of the strategies you can use when communicating with a hard of hearing person are similar to tips for those with memory loss.

Tips to consider:
1. Helpful strategies that can enhance communication:

  • Look at the person during your conversation.
  • Speak slower, do not mumble or cover your mouth. There is a tendency to start off slower in a conversation when asked but then you tend to speed up. Encourage the hard of hearing person to remind you to slow down.
  • Eliminate all background noises and if something shows up that cannot be changed, consider moving to another location.
  • Write down details or verify the information especially in a longer conversation. It is hard for the person with a hearing loss to catch all the information.
  • Change the message on the answering machine, requesting people to speak more slowly and repeat their phone number.
  • Those who have a higher pitched voice can be harder to understand especially when the words have these sounds: S Z SH CH TH F V. Repeat, verify or write those words down or spell the word aloud slowly to see if that helps.

More basic tips and for details at Managing Life with a Hearing Loss 

2.  It is important that this journey with a person with a hearing loss be a team effort. Certainly speakers need to make some modifications but the person with a hearing loss needs to be more involved. In addition to verifying the information, the hard of hearing person needs to ask the person to slow down, to look up, or not to talk with their back to them as they are heading out of the room. It is also important to thank people when they do make some changes and the conversations are easier to follow. Those observing can often learn by the examples others are setting.

3. If you are concerned about your hearing, schedule an appointment with an audiologist.   Many years ago a realtor attended one of my classes and shared with me months later that she had put off getting an evaluation. Now she has hearing aides and wished she had done it much earlier because now she is better able to follow conversations personally and professionally.

4. Helen Keller stated “Blindness separates us from things, deafness separates us from people.” It is not uncommon that certain situations become more than a bit frustrating to the person with a hearing loss.  Some typical areas include traveling, taking a walk, busy restaurants or gatherings.  When the family or caregiver is aware of the impact, the right modifications can make it less challenging.  Their quality of life can be improved and withdrawal from socialization, which is one of the keys to successful aging, can be decreased.

TO DO THIS WEEK: Seek out a person with a hearing loss and use these tips when conversing in person or on the phone. Ask the person if they were able to understand you better and what you could do to make it better for them. Give that person permission to ask you to slow down in the future if needed.

When someone in the family has a hearing loss the entire family has a hearing loss.
Mark Ross PhD

Information on Kathryn’s products and links to sample pages.    Kathryn is available for private consultations as well as educational and training programs. 

About Kathryn Kilpatrick

Kathryn Kilpatrick received her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology in 1968 from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in Ohio, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and for decades in the area of home health care. Kathryn is president of Memory Fitness Matters (www.memoryfitnessmatters.com) and Communication Connection(www.connectionsincommunication.com). She offers memory coaching for all ages and has a geriatric consulting practice. She is a national motivational speaker and author of more than 30 products to enhance communication and connection as well as a Memory Fitness Toolkit. Kathryn brings her decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist to all those wanting to enhance their quality of life, particularly when there are communication, memory and cognitive challenges. Her websites offer information on a wide variety of topics related to elder care concerns as well as memory fitness and successful aging.
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