Carol Bradley Bursack, Published April 25 2010
Bursack: Dad’s loss of hearing difficult to cope withDear Carol: My dad suffers hearing loss so severe that even though he wears hearing aids, people often have to write down what they are trying to tell him. Since I live out of town, I call my parents often, but Dad must rely on Mom to tell him what I say. I know he feels left out, but I don’t know how to help him. I love my Dad, and I feel sad that we can’t communicate directly. – Andrea
Dear Andrea: First of all, I’m assuming that your dad has the best hearing aids he can get and has investigated all other avenues. Hearing loss isolates people in profound ways. Unfortunately, hearing aids can’t cure hearing problems, and, as in your dad’s case, there is often not much more medical people can do.
My neighbor Joe, who I cared for during his last years, had lost his hearing in his 30s. I carried a pad of paper and a pen everywhere we went. Even though I invited Joe to my home for holidays, he wouldn’t come. He didn’t like being around a group of people he didn’t know well, so my sons and I brought holiday food to him. Joe was a bit lonely on those days, but he enjoyed his special meal, and he preferred eating alone to being alone in a crowd. I can understand that.
One option Joe didn’t have that your dad could have now is a computer. E-mail is a wonderful way for people to communicate, and the ability to surf the Internet makes many people feel connected and involved.
Often older people are afraid to learn to use a computer, or they’ve had someone too impatient to teach them in a way that they can learn. Older people need to be taught differently than young folks who’ve grown up around computers, but they can and do learn. I know, because I hear from many seniors via e-mail. Just think of how much fun you and your dad could have with direct communication. He wouldn’t have to rely on a “translator.”
Maybe you could buy a simple, stripped-down computer for your dad and either take time to teach him how to use the simplest functions or buy a gift certificate for some instruction. Since he can’t hear, a class probably won’t work, but an in-home instructor could be useful. Please encourage him. From what I hear, this method of communication opens up a whole new world for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.