Loss of hearing is a silent handicap many won't admit

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It is so difficult to watch a parent lose abilities. The loss of hearing is a silent and invisible handicap. Thus, it’s easy for a parent to withdraw into a world of his own. Helen Keller said blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.

I remember the TV getting louder and louder with each visit to my parents’ home. There were more and more misunderstandings — between myself and them, between each other, and in dealing with others.

Think about this partial list of things you lose with a hearing loss: hearing alarms or telephones, understanding when you can’t see the speaker’s face, hearing traffic, understanding people in a noisy room, ordering food, understanding clerks, hearing the sermon in church, and even enjoying sweet nothings in romantic situations. All can lead to isolation and depression.

The average delay in seeking help after a diagnosis of hearing loss is five to seven years. Older adults often won’t admit a hearing loss. The breakdown in communication may show up as physical symptoms like tension, exhaustion and psychological symptoms.

Of course, hearing aids are the obvious answer, if your parent will wear them. Generally, the smaller a hearing aid is, the less powerful it is, the shorter its battery life, and thus the more it will cost. My father-in-law’s hearing aids were covered with his veteran’s health coverage, which was very helpful. Unfortunately, he doesn’t wear them!

There are ways to aid TV watching and talking on the phone. The online company ActiveForever offers Headphones for TV and Amplified Phones and Strobes that signal a ringing phone.

The other loss that can slowly appear is that of vision. Usually, if the cause isn’t cataracts, it’s macular degeneration or glaucoma, and there isn’t an easy cure.

Again, consider the list of problems that accompany a loss in vision: can’t read prescription bottles, driving is dangerous, can’t see hazards in the home such as a loose carpet or the bottom step, can’t see spoiled food or expiration dates, can’t enjoy reading or movies, can’t see faces clearly anymore.

All these losses were difficult for my father. He used to be an avid reader. We did look into a book-on-tape service, and the local senior services offered a reading service for the newspaper.

Besides some clip-on magnifier glasses, Dad had a 10x hand magnifier in every room One product I looked into before he passed was a lighted magnifier on a stand. There are also video camera set-ups that project a page on the television screen. One such product is the Carson DR-200 ezRead.

Other things that help are to have better lighting in the room, using contrast colors in items used often such as light switches or doorways, labeling and marking prescriptions with large print, etc.

Patricia Knittel works at Walla Walla University’s School of Nursing. knittelpa@gmail.com.

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