According to the Labor of Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16% of the population provided eldercare between 2017 and 2018. Combine that with one in three people over the age of 65 having a hearing loss, and there is a very good chance you are or will be caring for someone with hearing aids. Hearing care professionals will diagnose the hearing loss and fit the devices. But, once fit, a majority of the daily use and maintenance falls to the wearer. Or, by extension, the caregiver. It is, therefore, prudent to know how to properly care for hearing aids.
First, take comfort in knowing that hearing aids are more durable than they appear. This isn’t to say one should play catch with them, but, given proper respect, the aids will hold up just fine in daily life. Perhaps the most important thing is to not get them wet. Modern hearing aids have the highest IP ratings (resistance to dirt and water). This means they can withstand moderate amounts of sweat, rain and snow. Humidity is also tolerable, although it is recommended that a specially-designed dehumidifier be used. However, if a hearing aid gets soaked (shower, swimming, washing machine) it can cause damage. Bottom line: water resistant, but not waterproof.
It is also important to clean the hearing aids. If the microphones get clogged or there is too much wax on the portion inside the canal, the sound will be diminished. Luckily, cleaning hearing aids is simple. A dry cloth or tissue can be used to wipe off any debris, while a brush can be used to keep the microphone ports clear. Ask the provider if you are unsure of the microphone location. In the case of receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) hearing aids, it is acceptable to clean the domes with soap and water. Just be sure to remove them from the hearing aid first and allow them to try completely before reattaching.
One should also be conscious of pets. Animals, particularly cats and dogs, are attracted to hearing aids. Unfortunately, they are not very gentle and can often cause significant damage. If the aids are not being worn, place them in a container out of reach of any critters.
Putting on Hearing Aids
It is possible that, because of vision or dexterity difficulties, the patient may not be able to put the aids on independently. Here are the best methods for putting hearing aids on somebody else, based on style:
RIC: Hook the aid over the ear. It should sit on top of the ear, between the skull and pinna, with the wire running down the front of the ear. Grab the wire near the dome and gently insert the dome into the canal. Gently push until it settles into place.
Behind-the-ear (BTE): These types of aids will have an earmold that is custom-molded to the patient. Thus, the mold can be easily inserted, and then the hearing aid can be swung over the ear.
In-the ear (ITE): These aids are custom-molded and are contained entirely within the ear. Insert the aid with the battery door facing outward.
Most hearing aids will have indicators to identify the proper ear: red is right and blue is left. If there are no color indicators, the proper ear can usually be determined by holding up the aid and examining the orientation.
It is possible that the individual being cared for is not always with the caretaker. Perhaps the loved one resides in a nursing home. In this case, the staff can be trained to assist with the hearing aids. Initial training can be done, along with written reminders. When visiting a loved one, the staff can be asked to provide updates on hearing aid use.
Another possibility is that the loved one is sick. If the individual is admitted to a hospital, it is probably best to hold onto the aids for him or her, as aids can often become lost in such an environment. The hearing aids can be placed on the patient during visits with family, but should be stored at home. If the individual is transferred to a hospice, it is probably okay to leave the hearings aids with the person, as a hospice is a less hectic environment.
Caring for a loved one can be challenging. Remember that it does not have to be done alone, even with hearing aids. Hearing care professionals are always willing to repair or clean hearing aids. Even calling with a simple question is always welcome. FBN
By Jeff Lane, Au.D.
Dr. Jeff Lane is a doctor of audiology with a passion for improving the lives of others. He is an audiologist at Trinity Hearing Center, located at 1330 N. Rim Dr., Suite B in Flagstaff. For more information, visit the website at TrinityHearing.net. Dr. Lane may be reached at 928-522-0500 or at email@example.com.