When one is a caregiver to a senior, a difficulty often becomes apparent over time. We see our loved one begin to lose the crispness of their senses as well as their mobility. Older people can lose their hearing and their eyesight. Their gait can become increasingly impaired, a result of severe arthritis, a stroke, lessening vision, or loss of sensation in feet from diabetes. All of this is distressing not only to them, but to those of us who are caring for them.
As a caregiver to both of my parents for 14 years, I found there is something we can do to help them soldier through such declines: We need to encourage the use of aids. Aids should not be thought of as a sign of defeat. Rather, they are just the opposite. As Dr. Eckstrom, co-author of our book The Gift of Caring says, we all need to embrace the use of aids because they give us independence.
My mother was, I think, like many seniors. She was reluctant at first to use aids. “I will never use a walker in public,” she professed. To her, using a walker to make her way down the sidewalk meant a loss of dignity and freedom. After some coaching by her doctor and those who cared for her, she came to see aids differently. Aids provided her liberation. They meant all the difference between being stuck at home and having the ability to take safe and enjoyable outings.
There are four major categories of aids, all of which I found very useful in caring for my mother. I will discuss each one separately in my upcoming posts. Today, I’ll start with one that made a huge difference to my mother’s quality of life as she aged: Hearing aids.
Dr. Eckstrom stresses that the importance of good hearing to health cannot be overemphasized. Numerous studies show that decreased hearing is associated with an increased risk of mortality. Also, impaired hearing is associated with an accelerated risk of memory decline. Therefore, investing in hearing aids is essential for our loved ones who suffer from hearing loss.
There is a problem however, and I experienced it with my mother. It’s not always easy to find ones that work. People can spend a lot of money to acquire hearing aids only to be disappointed with the results. They find the aids may work well in a quiet room but in a noisy situation like a restaurant, they amplify all the background noise, which can be exceedingly frustrating. This makes many people, like my mom, just want to give up.
But don’t give up and, more importantly, don’t let them give up. Hearing is too critical to life satisfaction. As I had to do with my mother, explain to your loved one that it will take time and several appointments to get the right adjustment. Find an audiologist and ear, nose and throat doctor who will work with you in these cases.
As I discovered, if your loved one knows they must have patience at the outset of the process, it makes the initial discouragement slightly easier to bear.
What about people who can’t afford hearing aids? Or what about seniors who have memory problems that make this option not workable? Dr. Eckstrom suggests another venue, one that I personally saw work very successfully with my son-in-law’s grandmother: Pocket amplifiers. At 97 years old, after suffering from hearing loss for many years, it changed her life.
Pocket amplifiers are low in cost and can provide terrific results. They are packaged in a small box and easy to use. There is a microphone, attached by a wire to the box, that one person speaks into. The hearing impaired, wearing headphones or earbuds attached to the same box, can hear the spoken words. Fancier versions employ wireless sound systems. Sometimes, this is the first time they have clearly heard a loved one’s voice in years. And while pocket amplifiers only work between two people, that can still vastly improve a person’s quality of life!
Pocket amplifiers are great tools to have when trying to communicate in a noisy restaurant. They remove all the disturbing background interference. In addition, wireless models mean you don’t have to raise your voice to be heard from different parts of the house. They are also very helpful at doctor appointments. A patient with hearing difficulties can actually hear what the doctor is saying! This is so important that Dr. Eckstrom encourages all doctors’ offices to have pocket amplifiers available for their patients who are hard of hearing. As caregivers, we can advocate that our providers’ offices have them if they don’t already.
Like many caregivers, I often had to remind my mother that the aids she used should never be thought of as a form of embarrassment or a symbol signifying loss. In time, she realized this truth. Instead of considering them as a defeat, we all came to see that these tools promoted better ways to relate, encouraged greater independence, and made for better caring and for more meaningful living.
Click here to purchase Marcy’s book, “The Gift of Caring: Saving Our Parents—and Ourselves—from the Perils of Modern Healthcare”.