How Seniors Can Protect Themselves From Social Isolation

As the number of seniors living alone in Singapore grows, it is estimated that 83,000 elderly persons will be living alone by 2030, compared with the 47,000 seniors aged 65 and above in 2016. This poses increased risks of social isolation and depression. To compound matters, seniors living with hearing loss, a condition that is estimated to affect 10% of the population above 60 years old, may face greater risks of social isolation and depression as their hearing issues hinder their ability to communicate with others. Studies have shown that elderly with hearing loss are two to five times more likely to develop dementia.

However, ageing does not mean that the elderly cannot enjoy a full quality of life. Senior citizens can do their part to protect their health and age gracefully. This World Senior Citizens Day (21st August), leading hearing implant brand Cochlear want to encourage senior citizens to take preventive measures to care for their health for fulfilled enjoyment of their retirement.

Across the wider spectrum of hearing solutions, Cochlear specialises in cochlear implants, bone conduction implants and acoustic implants, which healthcare professionals use to treat a range of moderate to profound types of hearing loss. Since 1981, Cochlear has provided more than 600,000 implantable devices, helping people of all ages, in more than 180 countries, to hear. Moreover, they’ll be launching the world’s smallest off-the-ear processor in Singapore soon!

Nonetheless, preventive care is of utmost priority so we spoke to Dr Barrie Tan, Senior Consultant ENT Specialist of Barrie Tan ENT Head & Neck Surgery, to find out how the elderly can take care of their hearing so that they can continue to enjoy communication with their friends and loved ones while lowering one’s risk of social isolation.

Q: Why is hearing so important as we age?

Being able to hear well is vital to enjoying an active independent life and healthy social relationships. We often take the gift of good hearing for granted. Yet, we can lose it suddenly or perhaps more commonly, slowly and insidiously.

Hearing loss is a silent disease that affects so many people in the world, especially the elderly. It is a silent disease because nobody can see you have it. It silences your world, cuts you off from the sounds that make the world such a wonder-filled place to be in. The world around is so much less captivating and engaging when you cannot hear. And the social isolation it builds is so hard to tear down once it is entrenched into your habitual everyday life.

People who can’t hear well often choose to disengage from the people and conversations they are surrounded by. So, although they are there, they really aren’t. Yet all this is so easily remediable. Nowadays with hearing technology that is so easily wearable, convenient and discreet, there is a hearing solution for every type and severity of hearing loss. Most don’t require any surgery, and if a surgery is required, it is not a major undertaking, and most can easily tolerate it with no side effects. Staying in a silent world then becomes an entirely unnecessary state. Choose today to embrace a world of sound; to hear better now and always!

Q: What can seniors do to protect their hearing?

They should avoid long exposures to loud noises, whether these are from recreational music listening or working in noisy environments.

Avoid putting any instruments or cotton buds into the ear canal as these have a risk of damaging the ear canal or the ear drum. The ears are designed to be self-cleaning but if there is any wax that blocks and makes hearing poorer, seniors should see their GP or family doctor or an ENT Surgeon who can help to remove the wax for them.

Otherwise, the better focus from a hearing perspective is to pay attention to problems to listening. Pay attention when people around you mention that the TV volume you are using is too loud. Or that you keep having to ask for repeats when people speak with you. These are tell-tale signs that your hearing is deteriorating, and you should have it properly evaluated.

Q: How often should one go for hearing tests?

Once there is significant hearing loss detected, then regular yearly audiograms (hearing tests) are advised to chart the trend of the hearing loss. As for those who have a suspicion of any hearing loss as mentioned above, they should just have a one-time evaluation. Thereafter the subsequent frequency of hearing tests will be determined by how mild or severe that hearing loss is. Those using hearing aids already should have hearing tests whenever they notice that the hearing aids have reached almost the maximum amplification and they are having difficulty hearing, they should return for a hearing test.

Q: How can their caregivers or children help with the elderly cope with hearing loss?

They should pay attention to the various hints that the elderly are having difficulty hearing and encourage them to seek proper evaluation first. If a hearing aid is indicated, they should encourage the elderly to purchase a pair and also to use them regularly. They should also be sensitive to the feelings and emotions of the elderly. Raising voices to speak with the elderly leads to miscommunication and some tensions. These should be talked through and explained that the reason for raising the voices is to allow the person to hear and get them to understand the intentions better.

Q: How can a caregiver or child encourage the senior to go for a hearing test and wear a hearing aid? This is especially so for those who are in denial about their hearing loss.

The best way is to physically accompany the senior to go for the hearing test. The physical presence indicates to the elderly that the family is also invested in their wellbeing and also concerned about them.

Children should highlight the multiple examples of what sounds the elderly are missing and the various indicators that the senior has hearing loss. These are sometimes not evident to the senior.

Children should highlight the many attributes of the hearing devices and convince them of the benefits of hearing better so that they can resume all their social and independent activities. Let the senior look at the positive benefits. Also reassure them that the hearing aids nowadays are so discreet and also there is no stigma about wearing them.

Convince them by affirming that while hearing loss often happens in old age, gone are the days where they just have to live with it. Modern hearing technologies can do so much to help and in such nonobtrusive ways as well. Remind seniors who have bought their hearing aids to use them whenever children visit their parents. Also hearing aids may need to be tuned regularly so that they are comfortable for hearing. So, encourage elderly who may have stopped using the hearing aids to go back to the audiologist to fit and tune the hearing aids.

 

We’d like to thank Dr Barrie for the time taken to answer our questions and more information about his clinic can be found on his website http://www.drbarrietan.com.

To all the seniors reading this, have a healthy World Senior Citizens Day!


Images: Cochlear and Envato

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