Almost a third (29%) of over-65s are feeling lonely, with 39% of them finding it difficult to stay in touch with loved ones, according to Specsavers research.
For many, Lockdown 3 has been the most challenging period so far, with 60% of people saying they are struggling to remain positive. This, combined with the cold weather and staying indoors, means more people than ever are feeling isolated and disconnected.
Those with hearing loss are finding it even harder – especially as face masks make lip-reading impossible and can distort sounds. On top of this, almost one in 10 people have noticed a change in their hearing since the first lockdown. That is why Specsavers has teamed up with the Jo Cox Foundation, which has just launched the #LonelinessLooksLike initiative, to share important advice about how to help.
Kim Leadbeater, Jo Cox’s sister and ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation, says: ‘At the Jo Cox Foundation we know the importance of staying connected and we want to ensure that everyone has the confidence to do so, particularly during these challenging times. So we are delighted to have partnered with Specsavers to encourage people to consider how important it is to look after their hearing, and indeed vision, in order to connect with each other.’
Specsavers’ chief audiologist, Gordon Harrison, adds: ‘People with hearing loss often rely on face-to-face interaction with family, friends and neighbours but as this can’t happen right now it’s important to find other ways to stay connected. It’s also equally important to consider the difficulties that they may experience in trying to communicate with you, particularly when they’re not in the same room.’
Mr Harrison is offering the following advice, so that you can help those with hearing loss still feel connected:
Speak slowly and clearly
The best way to have a successful conversation is by speaking slowly and clearly but in a natural manner. It is also important to avoid shouting, as this can distort the sound of speech making it more difficult to understand. It is also a good idea to pause a little longer between sentences or phrases, making sure that you have been understood before continuing.
If you’re both wearing face masks this is also something to be mindful of as it acts as a barrier, particularly to the higher speech frequencies where the key information in words is contained, and to plosive sounds that are produced on the lips, such as ‘f’, ‘ch’ and ‘p’. These sounds don’t carry the same energy as those produced in the back of the mouth and throat, such as ‘ee’ and ‘oo’, and can impact on the ability to hear.
Try using videocalls
Many people with hearing loss find it easier to join in with conversation when they can also lip-read as it helps them fill in any missing blanks. For this reason, video calls are a great way to stay in touch, especially as seeing a friendly face can also make you feel less alone and is much more intimate than a phone call.
Be aware of your environment
It can be difficult to understand conversation in loud and busy environments. Just because you may be at home does not mean that it will be easier to have a phone call with someone with hearing difficulties. Be mindful of whether you are standing next to a noisy washing machine, if there is music or a television programme blaring in the background, or if others in your household are also talking. Try to move to a quieter room if possible.
Patience is also key when having conversations. People with hearing loss can often feel frustrated if they aren’t able to follow or miss parts of sentences, so it is important to keep this in mind if they are asking you to repeat yourself.
Connect hearing aids to other devices
Many hearing aids now have the technological capabilities to connect to smartphones, TVs and other devices around the house, acting like wireless headphones for clear and easy streaming of sound. Using this technology, wearers can make hands-free calls and will find it easier to listen to and watch their favourite television programmes, which can certainly help when they are unable to leave the house.
You can also ask your audiologist to help you adjust your device to compensate when someone is wearing a mask, or use a remote microphone to deliver the best sound to the aid.