Are Aging Parents’ Needs Unintentionally Overlooked?

When Speaking Clearly Can Make a Big Difference

Have you ever wondered how well someone with imperfect (or sometimes even perfect) hearing can understand what an unseen voice is saying?

Think aging or elderly parents–or even yourself–calling an office where the person answering the phone rattles off the name of the business so quickly it’s unclear whether the intended party has been reached. Usually there’s a chance to confirm with a human being that you have reached the intended phone number. But what if the voice delivers important messages over a loudspeaker?

I was at the airport yesterday, waiting to board a flight. The gate was in the back corner of the very crowded terminal. Thus two gates were at right angles as were their lines to board two flights–which happened to be leaving for different destinations at the same time. Announcements for many departing flights were continually blaring over the loudspeaker–some in understandable English, some in heavily accented English, and some in very good English that was spoken so quickly you couldn’t catch all of it.

A lady and a man were trying to help an elderly woman who hadn’t heard all of the first boarding announcement for her flight: the announcement welcoming people needing extra time etc. to board first. The helpful lady and man were standing in separate, big lines so close together I assumed they were husband and wife. In actuality they were strangers, but they were the kind of people you hoped would be near your aging parent if he or she ever needed help.

The elderly, nicely dressed woman was, I observed, legitimately flustered because she knew she missed part of the announcement. She questioned the helpful lady who confirmed that the elderly woman could be boarding at that moment. Yet there was a crush of people making it impossible for her to move to the front of the line. That’s where the helpful man got involved. He overheard the conversation as did I, got out of his place in line and–as if on a football team but gentler–blocked for the elderly woman and eased her way to the ticket taker so she could comfortably board the plane before the crowd.

The helpful man returned to his place in the line, spoke with the initially-helpful lady, I interjected my observation that they were both very thoughtful, and we talked about how difficult it was to hear the boarding announcements during a busy time in a crowded airport. Are the people responsible for giving important information–be it on the telephone or in public places like airports–aware of the necessity of speaking clearly?

As we try to support–not reduce–older parents’ quality of life, it makes sense to think about common situations, such as hearing loss, that can impact outcomes and cause anxiety. While airports can be a challenge waiting to happen for older people, two solutions that don’t rely on the kindness of others, will be the subject of Saturday’s post. Helping an aging parent to feel comfortable flying alone affords opportunities to travel, visit family. It’s empowering. It enriches life. And each time we can support our aging parents’ quality of life, we are helping them to age well.

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