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Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

Those with hearing loss know how difficult it can be to communicate when there is a lot of background noise. Most have been in a restaurant or public space when noise levels were high, and communication became difficult or impossible. While hearing aids have advanced a lot in terms of their capabilities, it’s not always the case that we have them on hand. Nowhere is this more problematic than in the hospital, where noises swirl in the air while doctors try to communicate with patients about what is happening to them. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case that a person is wearing their hearing aids when a medical emergency arises, and in many cases medical staff will remove hearing aids while administering to them. Even worse, some patients have hearing loss but do not wear hearing aids. Indeed, those who fare the worst in a hospital environment tend to be lower-income patients without access to the hearing aids that would help them to navigate the hospital environment better.

Studies On Communication Issues in Hospitals

A study from New York University in New York City found that those who self-reported having difficulty communicating with doctors while hospitalized were 32% more likely to return to the hospital within one month. The study included 4,436 patients, aged 65 and older, who were admitted to the hospital at least once between 2010 and 2013. By their own assessment, 12% of individuals said they had a hard time hearing what their doctors and other medical staff were saying. These tended to be older patients of lower socioeconomic status. The phenomenon has been noted in the course of other studies, as well. Communication difficulties also tend to be associated with greater health concerns generally, and a poorer self-reported rating of health. It’s difficult for hospital staff to communicate with patients who are hard of hearing, especially when these patients are in denial about hearing loss. The louder the staff raises their voice, the more they’re likely to distort and increase discomfort while remaining misunderstood. A doctor raising their voice can also sometimes violate HIPAA’s privacy standards.

Hearing Loss Is a Two-Way Street

It’s clear that we all need to do as much as we can to ensure that hearing or other communication is a realistic possibility for those who don’t know sign language. On the part of hospital staff, a note on a patient’s chart and a sign on their bed indicating hearing impairment could go a long way. Simply ensuring that doctors and staff are aware of hearing loss can help guard against miscommunication. Unfortunately, some patients pretend to hear when they actually can’t. It can be hard to identify these patients as having hearing loss, which can tragically result in insufficient treatment. While the stigma associated with hearing loss is definitely on the decline, it can still be a major impediment to some patients receiving the care they need while hospitalized. We all need to understand that hearing loss is not a scarlet letter, but a fact of life for most of us as we age. About one-third of Americans between age 65–74 have hearing loss, and two-thirds of those over 75 have it. Nearly 100% of centenarians have hearing loss, suggesting we’ll all have hearing loss if we live long enough. If you have hearing loss, addressing it directly is the best way to ensure that you have not only the care you need should you need to enter the hospital, but that you can feel as free and confident as you did before hearing loss became an issue.

Hearing Aids Can Help

Hearing aids are not only the best existing treatment for hearing loss—they’re better than ever. For those who have access to them, hearing aids are available in a variety of types to suit every lifestyle. Everyone has different priorities with their hearing, so talking to your hearing care professional can go a long way toward ensuring that you get the hearing aids that will work best for you. Hearing aids today connect to smartphones and other devices, automatically reduce background noise, assist with spatial awareness, and generally do a better job than ever before at improving the lives of those with hearing issues. If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out if hearing aids are right for you. Join the millions of people who are living life to the fullest with the help of a good set of hearing aids!

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