Helping my father with his hearing problem

As we get older having an annual hearing test might not be such a bad idea!

A series of articles by various writers on medical topics this one is by Edel Rooney.

Helping my father with his hearing problem

My father is in his 70s and his hearing is deteriorating. He is finding it very difficult to hold conversations and is annoying my mother by having TV and music on at a very high volume. He refuses to do anything about the problem. Any ideas?

Hearing loss is an integral part of growing older, as is failing eyesight. But for some strange reason people have no problem getting glasses to help them see properly again, yet many resist getting aids to improve their hearing. It’s bizarre!

As you mention, you’ve already noticed some of the early indications of hearing loss: turning the TV and radio up loud, not responding when called, asking people to repeat themselves or even odd answers to questions. I know of one man who only acknowledged his hearing loss was a problem when following a chat with the son of a friend he asked the young man “what kind of dog was it?” and the reply was “accountancy”. He’d been telling the older man about his new job, not a dog!

Despite some humorous incidents like this, hearing loss is a serious issue. Not only are there safety issues (hearing warning alarms and announcements) but every day tasks can become more difficult (hearing the phone ring or the timer on the cooker). Others in the household can get incredibly frustrated having to repeat themselves all the time, having to shout or being ‘ignored’ when in reality the other person just hasn’t heard them. As a result tensions can run high leading to all kinds of relationship issues.

The first thing is to get a medical check to determine the cause of your dad’s hearing loss. It’s likely to be age related but it should be confirmed there’s no underlying medical condition. However, it could be the case that he has a build-up of ear wax or an infection which can easily be remedied, restoring or improving his hearing quickly.

If the hearing loss is permanent there are things you can do to help the situation. Others in the household must adapt their behaviour to allow for your dad’s condition. That means making sure he can see your mouth when talking to him. If he’s engrossed in some other activity make sure you get his attention before starting to talk to him. Speak normally but clearly and don’t be afraid to ask him if he has understood you fully.

Try to ensure that ‘white noise’, all the background noises most of us filter out automatically (radios, other people talking, washing machines, etc) is kept to a minimum when talking to your father.

While old style hearing aids not only amplified the sound the weared wanted to hear but much of the ‘white noise’ too, newer models provide a much better experience. For example, with some devices, you can tune it directly into your TV or phone.

You can also ensure your father has a television which incorporates sub-titling so he can continue to enjoy his favourite programmes. In large gatherings it can be impossible to catch conversations with several people talking at once. If it is not possible to get the group to talk one at a time then someone in the family should make a point of sticking close by your dad and clearly repeat information, but only if you can see he is struggling. Or try and arrange social engagements with only a handful of people at a time.

If something is really important, write it down clearly and make sure he reads it.  Or if you need him to get important information for you, such as instructions as to how to take his medications, make sure he gets his doctor to write it down. Or better still, try and go with him to his appointments to make sure you know what is going on.

When introducing your father to new people let them know he has a hearing problem and ask them to speak up and clearly to him.  You can do this in a matter-of-fact manner, not making an issue out of it, but above all don’t let your father be embarrassed about his condition. As a society we should be breaking the taboo of admitting to the natural ageing process that is hearing loss and that will only happen by talking openly about it.

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