It’s referred to as the “sandwich generation”. You go through your twenties and thirties raising your kids. And then when you’re in your forties and fifties you’re setting up the healthcare of your senior parents. The label “sandwich generation” is apt because you’re sandwiched between caring for your kids and caring for your parents. And it’s becoming more and more common. For caretakers, this means spending a lot of time considering Mom or Dad’s overall healthcare.
Scheduling an appointment for Dad to go to a cardiologist or an oncologist feels like a priority, so you aren’t likely to forget anything like that. But things like making certain Mom’s hearing aids are recharged or making the annual hearing test can sometimes just slip through the cracks. And those little things can make a major difference.
The Value of Hearing to Senior Health
More and more published research has echoed one surprising truth: your hearing is vitally important. What’s more, your hearing is essential in a way that goes beyond your ability to communicate or listen to music. Neglected hearing loss has been connected to numerous mental and physical health problems, like depression and loss of cognitive abilities.
So when you skip Mom’s hearing exam, you might be unwittingly increasing her chances of developing these problems, including dementia. It will be socially isolating if Mom can’t communicate because she can’t hear very well.
When hearing loss first begins, this sort of social isolation can happen very rapidly. You may think that mom is experiencing mood problems because she is acting a little bit distant but in actuality, that might not be the issue. It might be her hearing. And that hearing-induced separation can itself ultimately result in cognitive decline (your brain is a very use-it-or-lose-it type of organ). So identifying the signs of hearing loss, and making sure those signs are treated, is essential when dealing with your senior parents’ physical and mental health.
Prioritizing Hearing Health
Fine, we’ve convinced you. You have no doubt that hearing is relevant and that neglected hearing loss can snowball into other issues. What can be done to prioritize hearing care?
A couple of things that you can do are as follows:
- If your parents have rechargeable hearing aids help them make sure they keep them charged when they go to bed each night. If they are living in a retirement home, ask the staff to check this every night.
- Anyone over the age of 55 or 60 needs to have a hearing test yearly. Make sure that your senior parent has a scheduled appointment for such an exam.
- Pay attention to how your parents are behaving. If you notice the television getting a bit louder each week or that they have difficulty hearing you on the phone, talk to Mom about scheduling an appointment with a hearing specialist to find out if you can identify a problem.
- Remind your parents to wear their hearing aids daily. Hearing aids work at their greatest capacity when they are worn consistently.
- The same is true if you notice Mom starting to isolate herself, canceling phone conversations, and avoiding people. Any hearing problems she may be having will be identified by her hearing specialist.
Making Sure That Future Health Issues Are Prevented
You’re already dealing with a lot, specifically if you’re a caregiver in that sandwich generation. And if hearing loss isn’t causing direct problems, it can seem a little insignificant. But the evidence is pretty clear: treating hearing ailments now can prevent a wide range of serious problems in the long run.
So by making sure those hearing tests are scheduled and kept, you’re avoiding costly medical problems in the future. You could block depression before it starts. You might even be able to reduce Mom’s risk of developing dementia in the near future.
For most of us, that’s worth a trip to a hearing specialist. And it’s definitely worth a quick reminder to Mom that she needs to be wearing her hearing aid more vigilantly. You also may be able to have a nice conversation once that hearing aid is in. Maybe you’ll get some lunch and have a nice chat.