Aging: Changes in Hearing

Supporting people with an intellectual disability through the “Normal” Aging Process


Aging Persons with an intellectual disability will:

  • Likely affect the daily rhythms of our homes and the community as a whole.
  • Push us to focus even more on building upon, reinforcing and developing their strengths so that their quality of life is enhanced.
  • Have frequent changes in support and residential location and their health records are often inadequate. Consequently, it may take some time to piece together an accurate picture of the individual’s health status.
  • Challenge us to find creative ways for people to continue to do the things they like to do and to continue to have a role in the home.

Other Considerations:

  • Aging takes place earlier with individuals who are intellectually disabled than the general population.
  • In the 21st century, the life expectancy has increased to 66.1 years of age.
  • Individuals who are intellectually disabled account for 3% of older adults.
  • Health needs change as they individual gets older.


Changes in Hearing expected as the person ages:

  • Sensitivity to loud noises.
  • Difficulty locating sound.
  • More prone to wax build up that can affect hearing.

Strategies for supporting people with changes in hearing:

  • Reduce extra noise when trying to have a conversation.
  • Place yourself so the person can see you and fairly close. Increased volume is not always helpful.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Make sure you have the person’s attention before speaking.
  • Have doctor check for and remove wax if needed.
  • Arrange for hearing assessment and provide support to use a hearing aid if needed.
  • Use simple language and at a slower pace to help the individual distinguish words.
  • Encourage lip reading.
  • Do not shout on their faces.
  • Stand near the unaffected ear.
  • Check the battery of the hearing aid.
  • Before initiating the conversation convey your presence by moving closer where you can be seen or by gently touching the person.
  • Reduce background noises (i.e. radio) before speaking.
  • Talk at moderate rate and normal tone of voice.
  • Address the person directly. Do not turn away in the middle of the story. Make sure the person can see your face easily and in good light.
  • Avoid talking when something is in your mouth and avoid covering your mouth.
  • Always speak as clearly and as accurately as possible. Articulate consonants with particular care.
  • Do not ‘over articulate’. Mouthing or overdoing articulation is just as troublesome as mumbling.
  • Write ideas, use sign language or finger spelling, as appropriate.
  • Use simple words and short sentences. Word choice is important. Say ‘half a dollar’ instead of ‘fifty cents’.
  • Make reference to the name for easier understanding.
  • Change to a new subject at a slower rate.


  • Not every person will experience all of these changes.
  • Organizations concerned with a particular syndrome or condition may be helpful in providing information helpful for certain individuals.
  • Aging is a spiritual and psychological journey as well as a physical one.

Don’t Forget

  • If we believe that people can continue to grow and to share their gifts as they age we will support them to do so.

Information is compiled from the following:

  • McCracken Intervention Matrix –McCracken -College of Nursing and Health, University of Cincinnati and Lotteman Children, Inc. Covington, KY
  • A Focus on Geriatrics Sharing the Learning St Vincent Hospitals part of Providence Health Care
  • Age Changes and what to do about it Phyllis Kultgen and Peggy Hotz
  • Management Guidelines Development Disability Version 2, 2005.

Original material compiled by Jane Powell of L’Arche Ontario
Adapted with permission from

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