“Reverse Mortgage? I thought you said Rehearse Storage”! That’s what a senior with hearing loss and a sense of humor might say when a friend invites them to a HECM seminar. And while humor is a wonderful attribute in older people (or at any age), hearing loss is no laughing matter.
Since many HECM inquiries begin over the phone, it’s vital that seniors who may be interested in a reverse mortgage — and the HECM professionals who serve them — understand the ramifications of hearing loss. LOs need to know how to work with clients who have diminished hearing, especially if the clients are unaware of (or in denial about) the problem: “Everybody mumbles these days.”
The Center for Hearing and Communication reports that 30-40 percent of people over 65 have some type of hearing loss. But younger people (perhaps even reverse mortgage professionals themselves) aren’t immune: 14 percent of those ages 45-64 also have some type of hearing loss. While some kinds of hearing loss can be inherited or illness-induced, age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, describes the gradual, irreversible loss of hearing that occurs as we grow older. By the time we’re 75-plus, nearly half of us will have trouble hearing what’s being said, sometimes even with hearing aids, which amplify sound but do not clarify speech.
This 8-point assessment from the National Institutes of Health can help your clients, prospects and their loved ones determine whether a senior has a hearing problem. If someone answers “yes” to three or more questions, they may need to see an otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in diseases of the ear, nose, throat and neck):
- Do I have a problem hearing on the telephone or cell phone?
- Do I have trouble hearing in a noisy environment?
- Is it hard for me to follow a conversation when two or more people talk at the same time?
- Do I have to strain to understand a conversation?
- Do many people I talk to seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?
- Do I misunderstand what others are saying?
- Do I often ask people to repeat themselves?
- Do others complain that I turn the TV volume up too high?
Assistive listening devices beyond hearings aids can be a boon for people with hearing loss. One such resource is a captioned telephone, such as those offered through CapTel, a government- subsidized service (i.e., free to users after phone purchase). Both my dad and my intrepid friend Violette suffer from severe hearing loss, and each has benefitted from having a CapTel phone installed in their respective homes. As its name implies, the service utilizes state-of-the-art captioning technology to translate speech to text. The hearing-impaired person speaks into the CapTel phone as they would any other telephone; when the person they’re talking to responds, his or her words emerge on the CapTel phone screen to be read as text, as on a computer or tablet. It’s somewhat akin to a one-sided text message — but a lot less cumbersome for an older person who may not be texting-adept — plus the larger CapTel screen makes it easier to read what’s being said. Of course, software translation isn’t perfect, so occasionally what comes through can be amusing or a bit confusing, similar to what you see on some closed-captioned YouTube videos.
The best course, of course, is to protect one’s hearing as much and for as long as possible. While many of us attended ear-splitting concerts in our youth, a surprising number of common household appliances can damage hearing. Garbage disposals, blenders, lawn mowers — even an electric razor — can, with prolonged exposure, cause permanent hearing loss.
To help protect older ears, CapTel offers this advice that goes beyond simply avoiding noise and wearing protective earbuds when using loud appliances.
Seniors such as Violette and my father (and perhaps your parents, or other elders in your life) would be thrilled to be able to hear another’s voice again, or birdsong, or the music they once loved. While the rest of the world walks around plugged up and plugged in, savvy and caring reverse mortgage professionals can aid their clients and prospects in hearing what’s really being said. Tunes and texts may substitute for conversation among the young, but they also cancel out the at-tune-ment that’s possible when we really hear — and connect — with what another person is saying.