Hearing loss is one of the most common and most significant health challenges facing older adults. One in three people over the age of 65 and half of those over 85 have some degree of difficulty hearing.

This “invisible disability” can have major effects on a senior’s quality of life, on their relationships, and on their physical and mental health.

While hearing issues associated with aging cannot be cured, family members and caregivers can help in a number of ways.

  1. Start the conversation about hearing loss

An important step in addressing a loved one’s hearing problem is helping them recognize it. Often seniors don’t realize that they are hearing impaired.

Find a quiet distraction-free place to talk. Begin by sharing a desire for your loved one to enjoy social situations, and discuss safety concerns like the inability to hear a car horn, the smoke detector, or another loved one’s cries for help. Gently point out the tell-tale signs of hearing problems: keeping the TV and radio at excessive volume, asking people to repeat what they have said, and difficulty following a conversation in a noisy restaurant.

The chances are good that they will admit that they aren’t hearing like they once did.

  1. Change the way you communicate

The Centers for Disease Control offers several recommendations for talking with hearing-impaired seniors:

  • Address the person face-to-face and speak clearly, articulating your words.
  • Adjust the volume of your voice as necessary, but be careful not to shout, which makes understanding a message more difficult.
  • When interacting in groups, ask others to take turns speaking. Overlapping conversations are tough to follow.
  • Limit background noise. Most hearing-impaired individuals cannot hear speech over television, music, air conditioners and fans.
  1. Change your attitude

It’s easy for your patience to wear thin from constantly repeating yourself and raising your voice in order to be heard. This frustration can lead to negative feelings and to resentment that might further isolate the person suffering from hearing loss.

Remember, your loved one cannot control this situation and is likely just as irritated as you. Rather than getting angry or giving up, take a deep breath and try again.

  1. Be Conscious of Enabling

While a loving caregiver should be willing to work to make sure that a senior can understand, helping too much might allow them to avoid seeking help. If you find that you always have “be their ears,” encourage them to seek help.

  1. Encourage your loved one to see an audiologist: A doctor of audiology licensed in the state of Michigan will administer painless tests to determine the degree of hearing loss. He or she will screen for medical issues and related balance problems that could lead to debilitating falls. If the hearing loss is moderate to severe, the doctor is likely to prescribe a hearing aid.
  1. Invest in Assistive Technology

Hearing aids aren’t the only electronic devices that can improve your loved one’s ability to hear. Products like TV sound amplifiers, captioned telephones, and microphones can help older adults enjoy life and communicate with others.

Visual ‘flashing light” doorbells, phones and smoke detectors ensure that your loved one can function safely in their home.

Finally, if your loved one does purchase a hearing aid, you might suggest they consider a Bluetooth-equipped model that transmits from a TV, computer, and MP3 player directly to the device.