Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

In Communication by Dr. Chris Lawson

Dr. Chris Lawson

Chris Lawson’s credentials include a Doctorate in Clinical Audiology (Au.D.) from the University of Maryland in College Park, and a B.S. in Communication Disorders from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His graduate clinical training included rotations at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), public schools, and private practice settings.
Dr. Chris Lawson

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At Evergreen Audiology Clinic, we think everyone deserves to have better hearing. For each individual, their hearing loss is unique and we treat everyone as an individual, like a family member that needs our help. The first step to get help for you, or a loved one, is calling for a hearing evaluation.  Many people look on hearing loss as a natural part of aging – it is – but it also can be treated. If your vision needs correcting, you don’t hesitate to get glasses – it should be the same principle with hearing aids!

Researchers have found adults in health care facilities or adults getting treatment at medical facilities, frequently have untreated hearing loss. Treating their hearing loss, making testing part of a usual admittance procedure, they found, would go a long way towards improving care.

The Elderly and Hearing Loss

The World Health Organization has determined hearing loss affects nearly a third, about 32%, of the population over the age of 65 around the world. Hearing loss is growing and is now the fourth leading cause of what is being called a global disability. But medical personnel, it has been found, tend to overlook hearing loss when treating the elderly.

Care at a medical facility is often delivered in an atmosphere that includes beeping alarms and noise from machines, competing conversations from the adjacent bed and poor sound insulation in private rooms. There is also competition from the television and now, electronic devices that may or may not be allowed in the room. People with hearing loss struggle to understand what they are being told and what the implications of their treatment options are.

Hearing loss isn’t a problem of sound, but a problem of sound processing. Individuals with mild to moderate age-related hearing loss can hear sound and have a general understanding of what is being said if the environment is ideal. Ideal would be in a room with little competing ambient sound with a speaker directly facing them, talking to them. Understanding decreases if the speaker is faced away or if there are multiple speakers.

Now, think about a hospital room – there’s a doctor staring down at a chart talking, a nurse also looking at notes responding, machines running, the television on and perhaps a patient in the next bed talking to a relative or friend. Even for those who hear well, there’s a chance of getting conflicting information.

Medical Professionals and Health Care Issues

The hearing impaired often complain that medical professionals show a lack of empathy and understanding about hearing loss. They feel those in the healthcare profession don’t have a proper understanding about how stressful it is for a hearing-impaired patient to try and understand and follow a conversation involving medical care and options. There are studies that show doctors make fewer visits to the rooms of hearing-impaired patients and spend less time in the room when the do visit. Patients with hearing loss are frequently re-admitted for treatment after their release from a medical facility because they may not have fully understood directions on aftercare as well as pain management.

Health Care Communication Suggestions

According to the American Family Physician Journal, family physicians for elderly patients should make sure if they recommend treatment at a medical facility for their patients, the patient’s chart is flagged with the information that they have hearing issues and care must be taken to communicate properly with the individual.
It is helpful, the author goes on to say, if the attending physician discusses with the patient and the patient’s family, what the best communication option is for the patient. It may require writing out notes or typing into a device. The patient may need a sign language interpreter.

It may be as simple as facing the patient while talking, turning off the television and reducing distracting sound. It could be helpful to ask the patient to repeat back what they just learned. If there is a particular family member that seems to communicate better with the patient, they can be used as a go-between.

Evergreen Audiology

Hearing loss can be frustrating and the technology surrounding hearing aids can be confusing. At Evergreen Audiology, we’re ready to help you navigate through the technology so you can get hearing aids that suit you and your lifestyle!