We are just about 1 week away from National Good Neighbor Day! The AARP is framing this year’s holiday as an opportunity to combat isolation among seniors, which is a growing health epidemic.
Great! What does that have to do with audiology?
Although my practice is based in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss, my patients are really receiving a pathway to healthy aging. On any given day I see adults from all different stages of life and levels of functioning. Regardless of their age, I like to believe that I am keeping my patients from joining the 1 in 5 older adults suffering from isolation. Avoidance of isolation and pursuing healthy aging are two main themes that we stress to all of our patients, and these are directly achieved through hearing care.
It is never too early to start thinking about brain health and maximizing a person’s engagement with surroundings. In a time when people are physically living longer than ever, we find a greater need to prolong ones healthy years and subsequently fill the later years with quality, meaning and purpose. This means keeping the mind stimulated, as opposed to limited. As a person ages, sensory limitations often arise which may not be handicapping on their own, but pose a greater risk to ones overall sense of self and participation with others.
What is isolation? It can present itself as: general loneliness, dwelling on the fact that most friends have passed away, acting withdrawn in social settings, feeling like a burden, repeated excuses that it’s too hard to go anywhere. No one is immune to these feelings, but very often there are ways to help.
Isolation is a widespread issue which relies on all of us “Good Neighbors” to have the awareness, insight and compassion to jump in and take action. Hence the AARP’s slogan for National Good Neighbor Day, #Connect2Affect. If you notice a relative, friend or neighbor who is starting to fade away, or just isn’t who they used to be, and you are wondering how to help them, please consider the fact that most human beings crave connection with others. There are so many ways to impact someone’s life in this manner, by simply including them and showing that you care. And of course, by seeking rehabilitation for the senses that may have become limited due to age or other health conditions. The sense of hearing is vital for maximizing connections with others.
Having received my undergraduate degree in the field of Psychology, I always frame my treatment plans in this perspective. Hearing is the interface between me and you. Keeping the ears turned on is just one method of keeping a person’s mind stimulated. It allows us to connect socially, instead of withdrawing when conversations are unclear. Social interaction is good for your spirits as well as brain health, as it keeps the language and memory areas of the brain active.
We see many people who feel empowered by their new hearing capabilities, so they start getting together with friends again or attending lectures at the local senior center- which in turn boosts their sense of purpose and well-being.
Seniors who take care of their health, and specifically their brain health through social activity, make my heart soar! I have the privilege of knowing many mature adults who keep themselves connected, as well as those who mostly stay at home and watch television alone. There is often a qualitative difference in their presenting mood or interactions with me (of course there are exceptions to this, as well as unfortunate reasons why someone may be truly homebound– in that case, we always try to make the most of that reality and offer home visits). It is now well understood that untreated hearing loss and social isolation is associated with accelerated cognitive decline, and hearing status is one potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia.
There are so many people out there who live daily struggling with age-related hearing loss, not realizing that they have a hearing loss and thinking that their mind is just getting “old.” As a Good Neighbor, we must urge our friends not to give up on themselves! Gently ask them if they’ve checked their hearing recently. Having access to hearing healthcare helps sustain meaningful interactions for longer, thus keeping the mind active and healthy. In our practice, we have a much greater goal than just hearing aids: we help our patients be more active and engaged, living their years to their fullest.
Awareness and action are key. Connecting with your elderly neighbor can truly affect their well-being.
I am a Good Neighbor… are you?