Some seniors who have experienced sensory loss receive assistance from caregivers. Professional caregiver Lori Herbstreith is pictured with 89-year-old Clinton Township resident Josephine Anderson.

Some seniors who have experienced sensory loss receive assistance from caregivers. Professional caregiver Lori Herbstreith is pictured with 89-year-old Clinton Township resident Josephine Anderson.

Photo provided by Stephanie Aldridge


Battle against sensory loss intensifies in pandemic

By: Mark Vest | Metro | Published May 10, 2021

METRO DETROIT — Around 83% of older adults live with at least one form of sensory loss.

Stephanie Aldridge is a home care consultant for a Home Instead franchise in Shelby Township. Part of her job is to gather information and come up with a specific plan of care for senior clients.

Two common forms of sensory loss are vision loss and hearing loss.

Aldridge discussed how those who have a difficult time hearing can be assisted.

“If they are hard of hearing, then we know that we have to speak up or we need to face the senior when we’re talking,” she said. “We know with masks, that makes it difficult, so some caregivers wear a clear mask so that they can read their lips, because sometimes that helps people with hearing loss. Or maybe they have a hearing aid, and when we arrive, we need to check to make sure they have it in, or maybe we have to help them charge their hearing aid on a regular basis.”

Masks can be a communication barrier for those with hearing or vision loss.

“If you’re hearing impaired, you can’t see someone’s lips to read their lips,” Aldridge said. “My voice or someone’s voice may be muffled because they have the mask on, so it makes it hard. With vision, too, because if you don’t have the best vision and someone’s face is half covered with a mask, you may have a difficult time recognizing them.”

Aldridge expanded on challenges those with vision loss can face.

“If they have poor vision, that makes it so difficult; it makes it difficult for everything — opening the mail, preparing foods,” she said. “If someone’s at the door, answering the door (to) make sure it’s someone you know before you answer the door. … Maybe we (want to) help them organize their medications because it’s difficult for them to read.”

Issues related to masks aren’t the only problems seniors have encountered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Isolation can make it difficult for older adults to stay connected.

According to Bert Copple, who owns a Birmingham/Clawson Home Instead franchise, some older adults have utilized video chats and phone calls to stay in touch with family during the pandemic.

“In fact, according to a recent study by Home Instead, one in four — 28%, feel more comfortable using new technology than they did one year ago,” Copple stated in a press release. “But that technology may not work for seniors with failing eyesight or hearing. For them, isolation remains a threat.”

Dylan Secore is a clinical social worker for the Deaf Community Advocacy Network in Sylvan Lake, which is one of the Area Agency on Aging 1-B’s contractors.

Secore, who is completely deaf, has also thought about the isolation some seniors are going through — particularly those who have been placed in facilities where nobody on staff knows sign language.

“If you could imagine how that deaf senior citizen would feel in that situation, every day, day in, day out, and no communication,” Secore stated via an interpreter. “That leads to more issues, like depression and a variety of other issues, as well. I think it’s important for nursing home facilities to be aware, if there are any residents who are deaf or hard of hearing — watch them; make sure that they’re supported. Maybe teach the staff there some very basic signs to communicate with the people.”

From Secore’s perspective, seniors with hearing loss can have complete and independent lives, so long as they have appropriate accommodations.

“I can’t hear a fire alarm at all, but instead of having an audible fire alarm, I have a fire alarm that has a flashing light, and also I have a bed shaker,” stated Secore, who was born deaf and started learning sign language around the age of 1. “If the fire alarm goes off, then my bed is (going to) shake. … That’s just one example of making sure senior citizens with hearing loss have appropriate accommodations, to make sure that their place is comfortable and safe.”

Macomb Township resident Sandra Zumbro’s mom, Josephine Anderson, receives in-home care services at her residence in Clinton Township.

Anderson is 89 years old and has experienced some hearing loss, according to Zumbro.

Aside from assistance Anderson has received from Zumbro and her sister, Susan Pietrzak, a professional caregiver helps look in on her.

Zumbro said her mom likes to be in her own home and that caregivers come from noon until midnight six or seven times a week.

“Even though she has hearing loss, my mom likes to have the company there,” Zumbro said. “They talk back and forth. She hears (them), but the people have to talk loud.”

According to Aldridge, when it comes to sensory loss, there are simulators that can help families “put themselves in the senior’s shoes.”

There are also kits available that can be made at home.

“They have simulators that families can use, so that they could maybe see what it would be like to try to bake cookies with vision loss,” Aldridge said. “They have all these different things you can do so that you can experience what it might be like if you had difficulty hearing or if you had neuropathy, loss of feeling. … The kits help people that don’t have any sensory deficiency — helps put themselves in their shoes and maybe relate to them a little better.”

The kits are available at agingsenses.com.

Aldridge discussed some ways people can try to combat sensory loss.

“For example, if people quit smoking,” she said. “Smoking decreases your tastes, so that’s one of the senses. … Early detection of sensory loss can sometimes increase someone’s ability to manage this and maybe stop the severity of the sensory loss if you catch it, especially with your eyes. … If you identify these problems before they get too severe, you can make things a little better and a little easier for the seniors.”

Developing plans of care for seniors is work Aldridge she said she finds rewarding.

“I can make suggestions on different devices that they may need,” she said. “For instance, there’s a library for people that are hard of hearing. … I find it very rewarding, knowing that, through the assessment that I developed and through our professional caregivers, we’re (going to) make life a lot easier for these seniors.”

Secore suggests that those working with senior citizens ask how they can make their experience a positive one, instead of merely making assumptions about it, and he suggested that one person speak at a time when around someone who is hard of hearing.

He also shared a positive perspective for those who have experienced sensory loss.

“When you lose one sense, you still experience life in a different way,” Secore stated. “You don’t really have a loss — it’s just that you have to figure out creative ways of how to experience with your other senses.”

For more information about the Deaf Community Advocacy Network, visit deafcan.org.