The month of May recognizes Better Speech and Hearing Awareness Month, with the mission of educating the public about communication disorders. The month specifically gives a platform to raise awareness for individuals who experience hearing and speech difficulties. It is estimated that around 5% of the world’s population experience difficulties with hearing loss and another 5% of that population also experience speech difficulties (World Health Organization). Although these difficulties are not limited to older individuals, seniors and the aging population do tend to be the most affected by hearing and speech disorders.

Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis): 

  • Happens naturally as individuals age
  • Can be caused by long-term noise exposure that is either too loud or lasts too long. Exposure to certain noises can damage the sensory hair cells in the ear, which do not grow back and can diminish one’s hearing.
  • Conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, can contribute to hearing loss.

Factors Impacting Speech and Communication in Older Adults: 

  • Sensory, cognitive, and neurological factors can play a role in speech changes and communication skills in older adults (Speech Changes in Older Adults, 2016).
  • Vision changes that decrease one’s ability to process sensory information can affect one’s ability to pick up on non-verbal cues, making conversations more challenging and leading to greater social isolation (Speech Changes in Older Adults, 2016).
  • Hearing loss can affect speech clarity, tonality, and sound sensitivity.
  • With age, mental processing typically slows down and can affect speech and communication.
  • Typical neurological problems that affect older adults and can lead to speech difficulties include Parkinson’s Disease and Stroke.

At Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland (MOWCM), we recognize the importance of this year’s theme, “Connecting People” and the value that spreading awareness on this topic can have for our own clients. The theme of connecting people is vitally important because hearing and speech difficulties often make it challenging for individuals to navigate the world. Everyday tasks like following instructions, responding to warnings, or even hearing the phone can be a challenge. Additionally, hearing loss and speech difficulties can mitigate some of the joy that comes with communicating with friends and family, leading to feelings of social isolation. At MOWCM we strive every day to mitigate the effects felt from social isolation for all our clients through daily delivery of nutritious food and our More than a meal™ social service programs.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), promotes these three ideas for observing Speech and Hearing Awareness Month:

  1. Adopt better habits: Change simple routines like avoiding music noise – lowering the volume on earphones, wearing hearing protectors, planting a tree as a noise buffer, and practicing a speech in the mirror or with daily tongue twisters.
  2. Share your journey: If you or a loved one has ever experienced a communication disorder, sharing it with others may prove cathartic and may also encourage others to seek help without stigma.
  3. Review and share educational materials online: ASHA provides a number of educational infographics and videos on their website that can be used to learn more about hearing and speech disorders and can also be shared with others who may benefit from this content!

Written by: Nicole Troy

Resources

“Asha.” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, https://www.asha.org/.

“Deafness and Hearing Loss.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss.

“Speech Changes in Older Adults.” Senior Care Advice & Caregiver Support, 17 July 2016, https://seniorcareadvice.com/health-well-being/health-safety/speech-changes-in-older-adultshtm

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