An older woman playing with a child

Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

In Hearing Hazards, Hearing Loss, Hearing Loss Treatment, Overall Health by Paula Castanon

Paula Castanon

Health care facilities that house the elderly present challenges to the ones that suffer from loss of hearing. Though the difficulties of people living with hearing loss in care facilities are widely known and recognized, more needs to be done to elevate the actual quality of life.

Hearing loss and cognitive decline have been confirmed to have a definite correlation and make the elderly open to further isolation and depression.  The ability to discern speech from the background, ambient or conflicting sounds is debilitated for the hearing impaired within communal environments.

Statistics from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NDICD) show that “Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.” Research and studies have recently been conducted to illuminate the need and provide solutions for residents suffering from hearing loss in facilities for the elderly with disabilities.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), such facilities are mandated by law to provide accommodation for those with hearing loss as it is recognized and categorized as a disability. This includes communication strategies and modifications of living arrangements within the umbrella of their highest clinical practices.

Difficulties Facing People with Hearing Loss

Elderly people are often placed in challenging listening situations. Safe sound levels are around 80 decibels (a measurement of sound) but residents often congregate in public spaces within the facilities that contain loud TV’s or in cafeterias where the decibel levels can rise from 64 to 90.  These conditions are not conducive for people that have normal hearing let alone those that are suffering any kind of decline.

When it pertains to communication via speech, the hearing impaired are under tremendous duress in loud environments when conversations with one or more are part of everyday social interactions. Imagine the levels of sound as PSA’s, TV volume, transport equipment moving from one area to another and both the staff and residents trying to communicate across a shared space.

The Need for Better Communication

Unfortunately, the residents of care facilities that have a hearing loss are at greater risk of receiving lesser care. In fact, the risk is almost guaranteed in the decreased quality of life due to the barriers in communications. The strain for the elderly lessens their motivations to address their social, emotional and physical needs. Impaired hearing leads to a decrease in impetus to communicate thereby risking the safety of the residents and placing the staff at a further disadvantage when addressing their needs.  

Raising Awareness on the Specific Needs of People with Hearing Loss

There are mandated strategies for the staff of health care facilities to use to elevate modes of communication. It is important for the physicians and staff not only to be aware but implement these strategies. Some of these include documentation of resident abilities and difficulties when communicating, assessments, review of medical records, personal interviews, observations and proper use of hearing implements and assistive hearing devices.

In addition, health care professionals are requested to reach out to family members and personal physicians to gain a greater comprehension of the individual residents hearing impairment in order to address their individual needs.

All of the above are key strategies for the planning of term care of the residents and should help in the actions that can be taken to address the hearing afflicted, whether it be a simple act of lowering the volume of a TV to the proper evaluation of the functioning of their hearing aids.

The staff also need to be more mindful of their own behavior as “one study of 8 nursing homes found that overwhelmingly, voice noise emanates from staff-to-staff communication, rather than discussion involving residents.” The good news is in some facilities that there have been successes due to “quiet hours” programs.

Structural Improvements for Care Facilities

The solutions involving the integral design of the facilities themselves are costly and are hard to incorporate into buildings that have already been created. Implementation of proper insulation and acoustical panels and tiles should be brought to the forefront of sound issues within these installations. The inclusion of private rooms for the residents also bears mention. The importance lies in the initial design of care facilities so that the environments are readily adaptable and modified for the elderly with hearing loss. Their difficulties in communication need to be reduced as much as possible in both private and public spaces within the facilities.

All Ear Doctors

All Ear Doctors is aware of the needs of the aging population. We greatly encourage you or a loved one to make an appointment with us so that we can empower you with an informative assessment.  Take the most important initial step for a better hearing experience and a fuller, richer, sensory experience now.