Medical and physical issues
As long as I had known my Uncle Albert, I had had to speak loudly as he had poor hearing. But when I visited him, he seemed to be also having difficulty understanding what I was saying. He would look at me with a kind of puzzled look on his face. I tried to help him understand what I was saying but it wasn’t easy. Then another relative visited while I was there and immediately pointed to his hearing aid and told him to turn it on. “He’s always doing that!” she said and we all laughed. It turned out that he could understand far more than I thought, once his hearing aid was switched on.
People with dementia tend to have difficulties speaking and understanding people. This can sometimes result in a hearing problem going undetected. You might be under the impression that the person with dementia has not understood what you said, when they have simply not heard you. If the person is also unaware of the problem they might think that people are deliberately whispering. Once you realise what the problem is, you will be able to take the necessary steps to avoid the person from becoming frustrated, confused, suspicious and perhaps even withdrawing from conversations.
How to cope with poor hearing
Once you realise that the person with dementia cannot hear well, you will probably automatically speak louder. It can also help if you speak with a lower pitch of voice (if this is possible without sounding too strange) as it tends to be easier to hear. Articulating clearly is essential, although you should be careful not to exaggerate, as that would make what you say more difficult to understand. Many people who have difficulty hearing, lip-read without realising that they are doing it.
Therefore, if you make sure that you are sitting opposite the person with dementia when you speak, they will be able to see your mouth and benefit fully from your efforts. You could also give clues as to where the voice is coming from and reduce background noise such as the television, radio or other electrical appliances so that the person can single out your voice from other noises. It is also a good idea to avoid several people talking at once.
How to prevent problems linked to faulty hearing
Try to arrange for the person with dementia to have their hearing checked as soon as possible and at regular intervals in order to avoid the problem going undetected. If they have a hearing aid, have it checked occasionally and make sure that it is switched on.
Last Updated: Tuesday 11 August 2009