Alfred Sonnenstrahl, President of Deaf Seniors of America, joins Melissa to discuss some of the challenges that the deaf community faces, signs and side effects of hearing loss in seniors, and how his organization can help if you or a loved one have received a diagnosis.

Video Transcript

- Hello everyone, and welcome into Senior Living Live. My name is Melissa. I hope you are having a fantastic week this week. September is National Deaf Awareness month, and we want to take this opportunity to focus on the deaf community, the culture and people, and how you can get involved to help spread awareness. I am very pleased to have Alfred Sonnenstrahl with us today. He is the president of the organization, Deaf Seniors of America. Alfred, how are you doing today?

- Wonderful. I wanted to make it clear for some of the viewers, maybe that this is a new experience for all of you to see a person signing and a second person talking and a third person talking as well. Make that kind of clear here. I am deaf, been deaf all my life, and I don't speak very clearly, but I can sign. I sign very well because I signed all my life and Melissa can talk, but she can't sign. So we kind of have a gap. We both need a bridge to develop a relationship. And a link between us and for the viewers to hear us as well talking. We will have a third person here as the interpreter. Usually the interpreter is invisible. Like on the phone, on your telephone, you don't ask people what kind of phone when you use the phone call. So the telephone is kind of invisible while you both are talking. Just the same as here.

- I would love to know a little bit about Alfred and the organization, Deaf Seniors of America. Can he share a little bit about this organization with all of our viewers.

- Yes sure, okay. The deaf community is very small and scattered all over the world and the country and services for the deaf people are not being centralized. We need to have a community where we get together and we can all sign and understand each other. We have our own culture. We use our eyes to communicate. While in this country, everyone uses their ears to communicate, that they depend on their sound. While we depend on our eyes. We listen with our eyes with the sign language, and that's what we depend on different kinds of telephone. We use is a video phone to communicate with each other while hearing people, speaking of hearing people, many people don't realize that they are hearing people. That's what we call. Have you heard that before the terminology, hearing people? A lot of people say I'm deaf, but you are hearing, you are a hearing person. And oftentimes they would look at themselves and not realize that I'm hearing. They kind of take things for granted. They think only deaf people need a special services and they need an interpreter. They need a video phone. They need the captions. But hearing people don't realize that they do need special things like audio equipment. They go to meeting and they see a person with a microphone. And me who is deaf, I don't need a microphone, but the hearing people would need a microphone. So I consider a microphone, yours special device, spotlight speakers are your special devices. And they help hearing hear better and I don't need them. So we both need devices that meet each individual needs. For me I use my eyes. I use visual while hearing people use their audio. And so in some ways we are the same. Now, I'm back to the senior citizen. A lot of senior citizens get old, hearing people get old and there's a lot of services available for hearing people, but deaf people, we go to the hospital, how can we communicate with the doctor or the nurses? And we need an interpreter. It costs money. So hospitals have defined a cheapest way to cut the expenses by using video remote system, but it's not really as good in person interpreting is what about a fire alarm system? Some places don't provide a light, a flashing light to kind of let us know if there's something going on. So there's many things that hearing people don't realize that depend on audio and not visual. So for our organization, we establish it in 1992, we get the deaf senior citizen together. First, we socialized because the deaf seniors are pretty lonely. So we get together every two years. And then as time goes by, we noticed we needed a better service. We have senior citizen clubs, but they cannot use the local senior centers because obvious, oftentimes seniors are for local residents, but the deaf people live all over and not qualified to participate in a certain location centers. For example, a city where they have a local center for all the people that live in that city. But they would have more than X of numbers of people that live outside of that city, where the center is. And they want to come to socialize with each other, but they can't because they are outside of the district. So they're kind of isolated and we have to work to get them together. So that's the purpose of senior DSA of America unite the deaf seniors and find ways to improve services. So that way the deaf seniors can participate in varieties of programs and remain centralized.

- This is excellent information, not only for someone who may have been born deaf, or it may have been deaf as a child into adulthood, but also for our seniors who maybe are experiencing this or being deaf for the first time in their lives. So Alfred, can you give us the signs of hearing loss and how this can sometimes be mistaken for confusion or something else in our seniors?

- There is a big difference between a person who has been deaf all of their life or most of their lives since childhood, they tend to be able to sign and socialized. Some can talk or lip read. They can use their eyes to look around. For example, driving a car, deaf people can drive. I can drive. And I have a normal reflex where I look at the mirror, my rear view mirror, my side mirrors. And I make sure I'm constantly looking at them and keeping myself alert while I'm driving. But for people who become deaf and when they get older, it's a little different. They don't have that habit of kind of using their eyes as often as we who have been deaf, have different habits and different ways. And often people who became deaf at a senior citizen age, they don't know sign language and they don't know how to lip read and they tend to be isolated and lonely.

- So as we discuss that, the loneliness, that aspect in particular, is there a connection you think for someone who may be a senior who may be experiencing the hearing loss for the first time and cognitive function, if so what do we know?

- Well, I can't speak for people who've lost their hearing because I've been deaf all my life. But based on what I've seen and learn from others, oftentimes they don't realize that they had lost their hearing and oftentimes they deny their hearing loss, which is normal reaction. And it makes it harder for family members to try and kind of remind them, you are losing your hearing because they just don't feel it. Like for me, I have a cataract myself and I didn't realize that I would losing vision until I got time. And I was just having some hard time readings some captions on the TV screen. And it was very blurry for the text. And my eye doctor told me that I was pretty bad and I would need my cataract repaired and replaced. So I replaced it and wow I mean, I didn't realize that I had the eye problems. So it happened gradually until it happened to hit you and it happens in the latest part, same with people with the hearing loss, they don't realize that they're losing their hearing, but really it just happened. And now we understand that we have better technology with hearing-aids, cochlear implants that can help continue your hearing. And it does work in some cases, some cases maybe not. But I think if the people around them that have to get adjusted and help them understand and recognized that there are side effects of hearing loss. For example, let's see, I met a director of one of the nursing homes and he had told me that one of the woman is hard of hearing in their home. And he had told me that she is very stubborn. And I said, what do you mean? And she refused to receive medication. And I said, wow, maybe she doesn't understand you. Director didn't realize thought maybe she was being stubborn and refused to listen to him. But it was her hearing loss that was creating the problem and not her be doing it on purpose. So with those things, we wanna make sure we understand the side effects of hearing loss.

- Now, Alfred, what are some resources that can help seniors navigate this new normal if they have recently being diagnosed with hearing loss or are now deaf?

- Get equipment that is visual based, for example, TV should turn on the captions closed captions. Called FTC and you should know how to turn on the capture. We are the deaf community. We work very hard with the FCC, the Federal Communication Commission, and get involved with the ADA, American Disability Act, which is signed in the law about 1990s that requires accessibility for everyone, including people with hearing loss and people who are deaf. And that's why the schools, colleges, they provide the interpreting services and not as required all TV program to be closed captioned. Another thing is the fire alarm system must be visual. Make sure it has a visual alert system where you can see that, and then a door bell should have a light as well. Let me see if I can think anything else. The bed must have a vibrator to wake up with the alarm. That way the person can get up on time or a clock attached to a laptop where the lash confide up. You know, for example, now you see somebody is calling me on the video phone so my light is flashing at me right now. And I'm just gonna ignore it right now 'cause of this meeting, but now it stopped, okay. They gonna leave a message and it's called a side mail. I'll be looking to see what that message is, it either could be text or assign good. That's what I depend on it, wouldn't be voicing. That's what I would see a text or a sign. I wouldn't hear sound for my message. I remember visiting a friend, my parents are deaf, and I remember visiting my father's friend in the nursing home and he had a TV and had a video phone, but it wasn't working correctly. So I looked around and I would check in the connection and I asked them, do you have someone to help you set up the connection? And there was no technician in the nursing home who could set up any of those connections that we needed, all the wires for the video phone and all that. So it showed that we needed a technician person to come out and each nursing home or each assisted living place, and I wanted to make sure that they were having the knowledge on this technology for the deaf people that needed it. And most importantly, we would have an interpreter available so that way they could communicate with each other. And they would recognize that deaf people, when they move to a nursing home, the communication thought, because there was no one around that person to communicate with them in time language, as the result, their mind becomes into a dementia phase and their life tends to be very short.

- I think this is very important. Alfred, how can viewers get in touch with your organization?

- Well, I'm happy you asked me that, to that way you can go to our website, which is how can we live without internet. I often wonder how did we survive without internet, but you would go to deafseniors.US and this information will have a lot of depth about our organization. And there are some member form there. And any questions that you have there, you can contact us too. And everything is there is all visual.

- Excellent, and as we wrap up the interview, is there anything else that Alfred would like to share with our viewers, maybe about the community, the deaf community about his organization or anything that he feels like our viewers should know?

- It would be nice if you could see a deaf person in person trying to compensate with them, kind of move your mouth around, watching the hand sign, don't ignore them, and just trying get involved a little bit, trying to say communicate. A lot of people don't realize that deaf people are often invisible isolated, or should I say solitary? A lot of people say, you know, it's awful to put a person in a cell alone, which is solitary. A deaf person can be in a public place and an area where they have no one to communicate with and would feel invisible, isolated, and it kind of unfortunate. And we wanna communicate that to them and try and involve with that person and have this program set up to have a sign language interpreters while it'd be perfect. A staff who maybe knows how to sign, that would be nice, yeah.

- I think that is so key and so important and a huge takeaway to take from our interview today, as well as introducing our viewers to a wonderful organization that has a lot of resources who can help. Heather, we appreciate you helping us discuss and communicate today. Alfred, I thank you so much for joining us and for helping contact connect, I should say deaf seniors with a truly a wonderful organization such as yours. Thank you so much.

- Love you. You know what this means?

- I'm learning. What is it?

- It means I love you. I, L and Y. So we put it all together.

- All together, I love you.

- I love you.

- I love it. I love it, yeah.

- You got all three letters in one.

- Excellent, yes. Thank you, I love it. Thank you. And for all of our viewers, if you would like to learn more about Senior Living, please join us at There you will find a video box full of information about Senior Living. Our videos and our webinars include closed captioning. So everyone can be a part of the conversation. And with our webinars, we just wanna point out that closed captioning is available for those when they are live and you can type out your questions in the chat box any time to lend your voice to the conversation. As always, we thank you all for being a part of Senior Living Live, have a great day everybody.

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