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Published January 12, 2013, 11:35 PM

Minding Our Elders: Hearing loss adds to problems of dementia

DEAR CAROL: My mom is 89-years-old, lives in assisted living and has dementia. She also has substantial hearing loss which isn’t helped very much by her hearing aids. Her dementia prevents her from understanding closed caption TV, so that spoils TV as entertainment for her. Basically, she’s bored and miserable.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My mom is 89-years-old, lives in assisted living and has dementia. She also has substantial hearing loss which isn’t helped very much by her hearing aids. Her dementia prevents her from understanding closed caption TV, so that spoils TV as entertainment for her. Basically, she’s bored and miserable. Her dementia has progressed to where she thinks people are coming into her room to rob or hurt her. I feel like she should move in with me and my family, but we don’t have enough room as it is, and I work full time. I don’t know what to do to make her happier. – Marie

DEAR MARIE: Since your mom is in an assisted living facility, she should have many chances to socialize with others, but poor hearing probably makes being in a group uncomfortable for her. It’s not easy to adjust hearing aids for someone who may not understand the process. Some technicians are better than others at working under these conditions, so I’d suggest that you seek a second opinion to see if something more can be done for her.

As far as TV is concerned, sophisticated wireless headphones especially made for people with hearing problems are on the market. An Internet search can educate you about what is available, though I’d check with her hearing specialist to get his or her professional opinion. TV shouldn’t take the place of human interaction, but her ability to view shows she enjoys could increase her quality of life.

If your mom’s paranoia came on suddenly, I’d ask the doctor to test her for a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs are quite common in elderly people. Her medications should be evaluated periodically, as well. Both infections and medication reactions/interactions can cause dementia-like symptoms or make symptoms worse in people who already have dementia.

If your mom isn’t already seeing a dementia specialist, she probably should be tested by someone who knows all of the available approaches for treating the different types of known dementia. Paranoia is quite common with Alzheimer’s disease, but other types of dementia can also present similar symptoms.

Is your mom in a special memory unit at the assisted living facility? If not, securing a place for her in a facility with a memory/dementia unit would be appropriate, as the staff would be specially trained to take care of people with her issues. I’d also suggest that you take advantage of the National Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org for invaluable guidance.

You needn’t feel guilty that she’s not home with you. It sounds as though she needs more help than you or anyone alone can provide. Visit her often, ask her how you can help and provide what you can. Then support the specialists who are doing their best to optimize her ability to function and enjoy life to the extent that she is able.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.

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