Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

It’s estimated that about one-third of people aged 65–74 are living with hearing loss. For those 75 and older, the incidence climbs to about half. Nearly 100% of centenarians have hearing loss, suggesting that hearing loss is a universal problem for everyone who lives long enough to experience it.

But unfortunately, hearing loss is still vastly undertreated amongst the elderly. Only about one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids are actually wearing them, a statistic that has not changed in decades, even as stigmas erode and hearing aids improve.

Hearing Loss Brings Negative Health Outcomes

Perhaps one of the reasons that hearing loss is so undertreated is that people believe their hearing loss is merely an annoyance and not a serious problem to be addressed. While this attitude may have been more common in the previous century, we now know after decades of research that hearing loss is not just a benign aspect of getting older. Hearing loss tends to bring with it a host of negative outcomes for health and well-being, ranging from loneliness and depression to cognitive decline and dementia.

Another problem that is being studied more seriously is the way that hearing loss can affect the outcome of a hospital visit. This is an especially important problem to address because it is often left to caregivers to recognize hearing loss in a patient and try to work around it. Even those who wear hearing aids often have their hearing aids removed when conversing with doctors and nurses, but the concerns are especially strong for those who have been living with untreated hearing loss for some time.

These patients may not even realize they have hearing loss, or may have been living with it so long that it does not occur to them to alert someone to it. This unaddressed hearing loss can result in dangerous miscommunications. In fact, those with untreated hearing loss receive ineffective care in the hospital at a higher rate than those with normal hearing.

One study examined the rates at which people returned to the hospital within 30 days of their initial visit. Those with hearing loss returned 32% more often than those with normal hearing, strongly suggesting that hearing loss may be responsible for less effective treatment.

Communication In the Hospital Is a Two-Way Street

Caregivers also may not realize the best methods to communicate with a patient who has hearing loss. Hospital staff may resort to shouting, especially in situations where interventions need to be made quickly. But shouting can actually cause distortion in the ear, making it even more difficult to understand what is being said.

This confusion thwarts effective communication from both sides. Ultimately, it is up to everyone involved to do their best to improve communication and adopt available treatment. Those with hearing loss need to start wearing hearing aids at the first available opportunity. Regular hearing tests are the best way to determine when hearing aids are necessary.

The Importance of Regular Hearing Tests

The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit, recommends getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. Those in higher-risk professions or with a medical history indicating a higher risk should be tested even more frequently.

Some hospitals keep FM systems, personal amplifiers, or other assistive listening devices on hand for patients with hearing loss. However, even in these hospitals, it may not always be known that a patient has hearing loss. It is up to patients to be aware of their hearing loss and alert medical personnel that they require amplification in order to hear.

It is not always apparent to us that we have hearing loss without some objective measure. Indeed, it is often another person who tells us we have hearing loss before we recognize it ourselves. Regular hearing tests are the only surefire way to know when our hearing needs to be augmented with hearing aids.

If you or a loved one are having issues with hearing, or if you’re simply due for a hearing test, make an appointment today. Whether or not you currently need hearing aids, a hearing test is an important way to keep track of your hearing health over time, and can even help alert you to underlying health issues that would otherwise not be apparent.

Kenneth H. Wood, BC-HIS

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