A few years ago, studies were published that showed a connected between untreated hearing loss and dementia and cognitive decline. Some studies even indicate that untreated hearing loss can speed up the progression of cognitive decline in older adults. Because of their close link, many people experience both as they age. Here are some tips and tricks for helping a loved one with both dementia and hearing loss.
1) Encourage and assist them with having regular hearing tests
In the early stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s, your loved one may need your encouragement to seek hearing help. Even if you or they are not aware of hearing loss, beginning regular testing is crucial because of how often they occur together. Later on, they may need your assistance scheduling the hearing test, and it is recommended that a loved one or caregiver attend the appointment as well. This helps the person with dementia or cognitive decline to feel more supported as well as provides an extra set of ears to hear and remember any new information.
2) Encourage them to use their remaining hearing, such as by wearing hearing aids
Stimulation of the auditory pathway and auditory cortex of the brain is crucial, especially for someone with dementia or cognitive decline. Wearing hearing aids not only stimulates those areas, but it reduces the amount of listening effort required to communicate, freeing up the brain to follow conversation and retain information better. Some early studies are beginning to show that wearing hearing aids may even be able to slow the progression of these neurological conditions. While formal results are years away, many respected professionals in the field are using these early findings in their treatment of patients.
3) Consider the environment when spending time with them
Background noise and crowds are challenging for anyone with hearing loss. For those with dementia as well, it becomes almost impossible, even with the best hearing aids. If you are visiting a loved one with dementia and hearing loss, do what you can to adjust the environment to help them hear and follow the conversation better. Turn off the television or radio, and remove any unnecessary sources of noise such as fans or vacuum cleaners. Be aware of noises like the kettle or microwave and wait to chat until they have finished. If you go out, try to choose a restaurant or coffee shop that is quiet and sit away from the kitchen or bar.
4) Learn communication strategies to make yourself easier to understand
Consider the way that you speak when communicating with your loved one. Anyone with hearing loss could benefit from a more considerate communication partner. Try these techniques:
a. Speak slowly and clearly, but don’t shout
b. Make sure they can see your face when speaking
c. Use gestures or visual aids where possible
5) Give them plenty of love and support
A diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or cognitive decline is a scary one. Experiencing hearing loss as well can be extremely overwhelming. Your loved one will need lots of love and support from you even when they don’t yet need your physical assistance. Make sure that they know that you are there to help them with whatever they might need.
6) Learn how to help them with their hearing aids, and teach any other caregivers
Attend audiology appointments with your loved one and ask questions. Learn how to help them with battery changes, cleaning, and maybe even inserting and removing the hearing aids. If you aren’t the primary caregiver, teach them what to do as well. Make sure you know how to troubleshoot the hearing aids. Don’t be afraid to ask their audiologist any questions- even ones you think are silly!- if they help you to feel more comfortable helping your loved one.
While dementia and hearing loss are linked, both benefit from early intervention. Be there for your loved one and encourage them to seek help early. For more information on the link between hearing loss and dementia and cognitive decline, read about it here. If you’d like help with your hearing, or you’d like to help a loved one, contact us, or comment below and we’ll be in touch.