Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

Dr. Marina E. Kade Hearing Health, Hearing Loss

Dr. Marina E. Kade

Hearing loss has a direct association with many other health conditions. Physical conditions are associated with hearing loss, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even the likelihood of accidents and serious falls. In addition to physical conditions, mental health issues are correlated with hearing loss, as well. Those who have untreated hearing loss are more likely to have depression, anxiety, and other emotional struggles. 

Hearing loss is even related to cognitive issues, such as dementia. Many experts believe that untreated hearing loss makes it more difficult to carry on conversations, and that interpersonal confusion can spill over into other areas of cognition, as well. With all of these conditions related to hearing loss, health care is more important than ever. As if the connections with health and wellness issues were not enough, hearing loss even makes interactions with healthcare professionals more difficult. A recent study has found that older people who have untreated hearing loss are more likely to return for subsequent visits. 

Why might that be? Let’s consider the following hypothetical scenario to understand what a doctor visit might be like for a person with hearing loss. 

Hearing Loss in Health Care Environments

When a person with hearing loss engages with health care institutions, hearing ability is assumed all along the way. From the first moment of scheduling an appointment, it can be difficult to make the conversation with medical personnel clear enough to establish the cause of the visit. 

When a nurse or other medical technician asks survey questions over the phone, it can be difficult to understand what is being asked. With the wrong information in the screening questions, it is possible to be scheduled with mistaken information from the start. Once a person with hearing loss arrives for a visit, the problem is only exacerbated by the healthcare environment. 

Particularly in an emergency or urgent care environment, many other sounds can surround the person in need of care. Many triage stations are held in semi-public areas with nothing but a fabric curtain separating one “room” from the next. The sounds of machines and other voices can cause a din that makes conversations with the doctor even more confusing. The precision of questions from doctors and nurses can make it so that even one mistaken question leads down the wrong diagnostic path. 

With these many communication problems in mind, it should come as no surprise that older people with hearing loss return for follow-up doctor appointments at higher rates than their counterparts who do not have hearing loss

Improving Care for Hearing Impaired Patients

Although the above scenario is all too common among those with hearing loss or impairment, there are steps that you can take as an advocate for someone in this position. First, it is important to disclose hearing loss as early in the process as possible. Beginning with the first diagnostic phone call, make it clear to the nurse or medical technician that hearing loss might be getting in the way of these question-and-answer sessions. 

Once that information has been disclosed, you will likely need to continue disclosing hearing loss at each step along the way. Getting diagnostic questions in writing can be very helpful, making sure communication is clear and thorough. Any time that information can be supplied in writing, it is best to review that information carefully to make sure treatment instructions are clear. Finally, for those with serious impairment requiring interpretation, ASL and other translators are available through the hospital or doctor office at your request. 

Although these accommodation strategies can be helpful for someone with hearing loss, the only durable solution is to seek treatment. The first step to pursue is a hearing test to fully diagnose your hearing needs. With that assessment in place, we can recommend a range of hearing aids tailored to your hearing profile and lifestyle needs. These aids come in a remarkable range of features, styles, and functions, and you might be surprised how far these devices have advanced since the last time you checked. Not only can these units improve your experience in health care environments, but they can also improve your general wellbeing in other contexts, as well.