Thousands of adults are taking care of older family members who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. We’d like to thank and support them. #CaregiverMonday

CHC’s audiologists have long felt that when an older person is at risk of becoming less connected with the world around him—including and especially the people trying to care for him—strengthening hearing and communication is essential to keep the person engaged, safe, and well. When we learned from Dr. Frank Lin’s research that unaided hearing loss and dementia/Alzheimer’s disease are in fact strongly linked, we responded by creating the Center for Hearing and Aging.

The generosity of caregivers

CHC is collaborating with the Alzheimer’s Association, NYC Chapter on parts of the Center for Hearing and Aging. The program has given us even deeper respect for caregivers of older adults experiencing cognitive issues and hearing loss. Family members, spouses, adult children, and even friends have taken responsibility for managing another person’s care at a very difficult and complex time.

They often make big sacrifices. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that in 2012 in the U.S., “15.4M family and friends provided 17.5B hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias — care valued at $216.4B.” The majority of the caregivers in the study experienced high or very high emotional stress, and they incurred about $9.1B in their own, additional health care costs related to the physical and emotional challenges of caregiving.

Communication strategies for caregivers

It’s a growing part of the Center for Hearing and Aging’s work to support caregivers. They have taught us that they need tools and strategies to make communication easier; when understanding is low, every other aspect of daily life becomes much more difficult to manage.

Here’s an expansion of some of the tips Alzheimer’s Association tweeted out yesterday, our first commemoration of #CaregiverMonday:

  1. Understand that untreated hearing loss can feel extremely isolating. Be in a patient, unhurried, and relaxed state of mind when talking to a person with hearing loss.
  2. Calmly get the person’s attention first; say their name. Enter their field of vision if you’re not already, and if you are, use your hand to signal that you want their attention.
  3. Be at eye level with the person with hearing loss so that they can pick up facial expressions and speech read (get cues from your lips).
  4. Cue in the topic first; “Let’s talk about…” and explain what you want to get across in short messages.
  5. Speak clearly and a little more slowly than you might otherwise, but do not shout.
  6. Encourage the person to tell you if they don’t understand, and that it’s okay.
  7. If you have to repeat a message more than three times, rephrase the message or write it down.
  8. Consider writing down a particularly important point after you’re done talking, even if the person has understood you.
  9. Schedule downtime for a person with hearing loss. Hearing loss is a very exhausting condition.
  10. Lastly, caregivers: Have your OWN hearing tested by a licensed audiologist, and follow their recommendations for treatment. Stay connected longer!

The Center for Hearing and Communication’s mobile audiology unit (a hearing test booth on wheels) will be at the Alzheimer’s Association, NYC Chapter’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Oct 20, 2013. Walkers can visit the van for a free hearing screening.

About the Center for Hearing and Aging

The purpose of the Center for Hearing and Aging program is to make the later years better for people who are at risk for hearing loss and/or dementia (which is to say, all of us as we get older). Clients can come to CHC for SoundMind services, which combine audiology, language and memory, and emotional wellness disciplines for a holistic approach to treating hearing loss and related issues. Program staff conducts workshops, talks, and Q&A sessions at New York City senior communities. We’ve found that seniors with hearing loss, and people taking care of seniors with hearing loss and/or some cognitive issues, are desperate for information and tools to ease communication. The program is funded with private foundation grants.