Throughout our lives, we may sometimes discuss what we want our last words to be, a literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a potential special moment where someone could share extra-special info on the way out. Perhaps it could be inspiring opinions, memorable messages, maybe even an actual deathbed confession.
Trouble is, those familiar with end-of-life care say these types of situations where words of wisdom are supposed to be imparted rarely happen as scheduled, if at all. In the last few moments of life, residents of Cedar Rapids and elsewhere are more likely to go to sleep, slip into a coma or perhaps have a period of confusion. At the very least, they may be occupied by other final thoughts and concerns so they may not remember that they once promised themselves that they’d make sure to say something profound.
In fact, the team at Above and Beyond Home Care and Hospice have also observed something that is more commonly heard toward the end of a client’s life: “Huh?” This expression could be said by the client themselves or those around them.
More research is showing that it’s fairly common for clients to find it harder and harder to hear things around them the closer they are to death. Or they may perceive sound differently than they did earlier in life, such as being able to hear whispers more distinctly but not liking harsher sounds like the TV.
Healthy Hearing, an audio resource, said that as many as 1 in 4 patients in hospice settings have some sort of hearing loss. Some of these may be age-related, especially since more than 80 percent of people aged 80 or over have some type of loss.
But others may be experiencing hearing loss due to their health condition. Some reactions to chemo can lead to hearing loss, and other conditions may limit or change their perception of sound as their bodies shut down.
This has the potential to make this process even more challenging for people receiving care. They may have trouble talking due to their condition and general fatigue. And if they can’t hear well anymore, it may make them feel even more isolated even if there are people around them.
They may not feel that they are able to take part in discussions with friends or family or even ask for help.
How to help
Family members, caregivers, or other visitors should keep the potential for hearing loss in mind when spending time with their loved ones in these settings.
Experts say there are some different strategies to make sure they feel included.
- Limit outside noise. It doesn’t have to be super silent, since this could also make things feel artificial and even a little uncomfortable. But if someone is trying to have a conversation, turn down sources of sounds like a fan or TV.
- Maintain eye contact and let them see your lips and vice versa. Having a conversation across the room or when one party isn’t concentrating can be difficult. They may not be able to read lips but seeing them speak may help. Offer them their glasses too if that helps them pay better attention to what someone is saying or showing them.
- Look for tools to help communication. This could be a small wipe board and marker where they can write things (or an electronic device.) It could be a low-range microphone and speaker where they can be better heard. There also could be similar tools for people who are trying to be heard as they speak.
- Include captioning. If they’re watching TV, make sure captioning is enabled. This can allow someone to enjoy favorite shows and movies even if they can’t hear them anymore.
- Encourage hearing aid use even if they’re bulky. Even if a person can’t or doesn’t want to wear them all the time, they can be invited to wear them for important conversations like financial/legal stuff.
- Check for comprehension. Caregivers or loved ones can ask clients if they understand what was discussed. Or if it could be done without being condescending, ask them to repeat matters.
- Be considerate with their condition. There may be times during the day when they are more or less alert and able to have a conversation.
As more and more people consider end-of-life care, more attention is given to helping clients with their quality of life. This can mean making sure they have the ability to communicate, and even if they don’t want to talk, they can at least enjoy their environment.
To learn more, there are a variety of online resources as well as occasions that highlight the need for better communication for those who might face challenges speaking or listening.
For instance, World Listening Day takes place on July 18. It’s organized by the World Listening Project, a nonprofit that focuses on understanding the planet through its sounds, and explores a specialty discipline called acoustic ecology.
World Hearing Day, organized by the World Health Organization, took place on March 3 and focused on the importance of hearing loss prevention and reducing exposure to loud sounds.