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Hearing Care and Social Isolation in the Elderly

I lost a patient recently, her son let me know she had passed away. This doesn’t seem to get any easier, because when you do home visits you can easily become quite fond of your patients and their family. As a sole trader, I am the only one who finds out, sometimes very quickly, sometimes when I contact a patient to invite them for their next hearing test. In chain stores, you never find out.

I can’t tell you who this lady was, or how amazing her spirit was. What I will say though, is that it was an honour to work with her. Suffering the early stages of dementia is hard. Moving away from your home town is hard. Coping with the isolation of hearing loss is tough. All three at the same time? Unimaginable.

So to see someone open up like a flower, when they can hear properly again, is wonderful! There are sheltered living buildings where the staff/carers/managers go above and beyond, fixing trips to markets and concerts, helping residents to engage and make the ties that make life worth living. It is awful when people can’t take advantage of that care due to their terrible hearing aids. Fixing the hearing gives confidence that can’t be measured, and gives the opportunity to accept that invite, see that concert and go on that coach trip!

I wish I could fix everyone, but you can only do what you can do. Please keep in mind though, that if you have an elderly relative who used to be sociable but isn’t anymore, it might be their hearing. People’s personalities don’t tend to change. An outgoing person who used to have friends does not become a recluse overnight. If they can’t hear well, they may find it embarrassing. They may find it difficult to keep up in groups, they may find it hard to make new friends because they are embarrassed about asking people to repeat themselves. After a couple of experiences of looking stupid because you didn’t respond, you might not want to go back to the group - but you’ll say “it just wasn’t for me”. You don’t want to worry your relatives and you think nothing can be done anyway.

I met a fantastic woman at a sign language course. Funny, engaging, open and warm. We had so much in common - but she had a soft, Irish accented voice. I didn’t accept her coffee invite because I just knew it would be impossible. I really liked her! If that’s how it is in your 30’s, it must be so much harder in your 80’s, or if dementia is taking your confidence away. If you’ve lost your partner.

Hearing aids don’t need to be the highest tech to save a person’s social life. But they do need to be maintained, and set up as the person needs them to be. It takes time, and unfortunately the NHS don’t always offer that time up freely. The NHS is not great at “follow-up” care.

If you are restricted to the NHS, make sure your relative is taken to their appointments. Ensure they go back when something isn’t working for them. Don’t let them withdraw for the sake of “not making a fuss”. It isn’t making a fuss, to request service. You can request a personal appointment for them, instead of the repair clinic nightmare.

Better still, see a private audiologist if funds allow. See a good one.

I work with people who have dementia, I do home visits in my local area for those who can’t travel. I focus on my patient, but I consult with family too - as long as the patient is happy with it. If you need advice, not “sales”, I am happy to consult and offer my opinion. I can look at existing aids and listening devices, and provide a solution if there is one to be had.

Just get in touch and tell me what your relative needs, and I’ll tell you what I can do, and how likely it is that I can improve the situation.

~ Sally - Audiologist at Hearing and Tinnitus Care

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