Emotional Implications of Vision & Hearing Loss: The role caregivers play in quality of life

Emotional Implications of Vision & Hearing Loss: The role caregivers play in quality of life

January 28, 2019

There are several emotional issues that are connected with hearing and vision loss for aging adults. Trust with a caregiver and family member is vital for a sense of safety, comfort and independence.

“Sensory problems are common experiences within the older US population. Of people aged ≥ 70 years, 18% report blindness in 1 or both eyes or some other trouble seeing, 33.2% report problems with hearing, and 8.6% report problems with both hearing and seeing.1 Precisely because these experiences are so common, they are often overlooked or dismissed.2 Moreover, normal age-related changes in hearing and vision may be confused with abnormal sensory changes that can compromise function. Likewise, abnormal changes due to eye and ear pathology may be confused with normal age-related sensory changes. (1)”

Living with irreversible hearing loss impacts 10 million Americans and most are over the age of 70. The world is no longer full of vibrancy and meaningful relationships but filled with muffled tones, sharp pitches, and sometimes imbalance causing a higher fall risk. The causes vary but more often, it is part of the aging process, which leads to frustrations, social withdrawal and stress in older adults.

The role of the caregiver becomes increasingly important for these adults whose intake information relies totally on someone other than themselves. As caregivers identify signs of hearing loss, there are ways to connect and provide meaningful interactions. Signs of hearing loss could include:

• Difficulty following conversations
• Difficulty hearing in noisy situations
• TV/Radio volumes are high
• Inappropriate responses in conversations

Because our emotional well-being is defined and connected to the sounds around us, caregivers must learn to recognize the emotional clues to hearing loss. Losing control of one’s environment often is exhibited in the following ways:

• Annoyed
• Withdrawal
• Stressed from straining to hear

The role of the caregiver to those who suffer from hearing loss is vital order to maintain independence and purposeful living. Hearing loss is considered a disability, and the rights associated with this loss are an important element to daily living. When communicating with someone with hearing loss the following tips will assist you:

• Face the person before speaking, Make eye contact
• Speak slowly and clearly
• Use louder deeper tones of voice
• Ask questions to make sure they have heard you

It is important that aging adults have periodic assessments for early hearing loss detection. While some loss is irreversible, early detection is critical to slow progression. Individuals over the age of 60 should have their hearing checked every two years. Approximately one in three people (43 million Americans) has some form of vision reducing eye disease by the age of 65. The most common are age related diseases: Macular Degeneration, Glaucoma, and Cataracts: the loss of sight often will cause seniors to exhibit behaviors symptomatic to fear and loss.

Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss. While this age related vision degeneration is caused by damage to the retina, the physiological impact is the loss of central vision. Reading, driving, facial recognition and fine details become impossible for sufferers. When speaking with someone who suffers from Macular Degeneration, always approach from the side and touch their shoulder before speaking to get their attention. Cataracts is the second leading cause of vision loss and is caused by the clouding of the eye due to abnormal proteins. The sufferer experiences double vision, halos, sensitivity to light or total loss of sight. Glaucoma is the third cause of sight loss and is a result of too much pressure to the optic nerve. Sufferers experience tunnel vision or loss of peripheral vision. When communicating with someone who suffers from Glaucoma always approach from the front allowing them to easily see you before speaking.

While interventions are available for all of these diseases, the role of the caregiver or family member is vital to a sense of security for that individual. Corrective lenses, visual aids, contrasting colors, lighting with reduced glare and reduction of clutter are all vital components of safety and well-being. Some warning signs of vision loss include: increased falls, decreased desire for social interactions, complaints of vision problems like asking for more light and will overcompensating with other senses to understand and interact with their environment. Screening is critical for early detection and to prevent further loss. Understanding family history, routine health exams, exercise, UV light protection, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking are the major components to prevent sight loss.

Caregivers should remain patient when working with those who suffer sight loss. They are living in a vacuum of touch, taste, smell and possibly sounds. Missing their fifth sense causes imbalance to their lives. Exercise and diet play a large role in quality of living. Sufferers may not want to change their habits, but studies show that movement and a healthy diet will slow progression. It is also important to allow them to be as independent as possible, one way is to place things they will need in their line of sight for easier access.

Aging is inevitable, how we care for those in the midst determines their quality of life.

CRISTA Rehab & Skilled Care is a Post Acute Skilled Facility located in Shoreline on our Cristwood Campus.

PMC US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Vision Impairment and Hearing Loss Among Community-Dwelling Americans: Implications for Health and Functioning (May 2004)
Association of Independent Hearing Healthcare (2018)
Karen Schnaufer, BSN, RN Relias Learning
National Eye Institute, Research Today . . . Vision Tomorrow
National Eye Institute, (2012) Don’t lose sight of Cataracts
American Academy of Ophthalmology, (2015) Remember Your Eyes When it Comes to Fighting the Signs of Aging.
American Macular Degeneration Foundation (2015) What is Macular Degeneration
American Optometric Association (2015) Glaucoma
Bailey, G (2015, September 22) Cataracts
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (2015 February 16)