The Journal of Gerontological Nursing recently published an article about negative effects of age-related hearing loss and current policies that affect hearing care, titled “Implications of Hearing Care Policy for Nurses.” An outline of practical solutions to address hearing loss is offered by researchers within the article. The strategies provided can make a significant positive impact in the lives of those with hearing loss when utilized effectively.
The authors categorized these solutions into three main domains: communication considerations, environmental modifications, and technological considerations.
These strategies were identified to be used by family members, medical providers, and/or long-term care professionals to overcome the barriers associated with hearing loss as mentioned by researchers within the article.
1. Body positioning – It is important to make a conscious effort to face the person you are conversing with and to sit at eye-level with them to ensure that they will be able to understand you and maintain attention.
2. Face-to-face communication – Make sure that the person you are communicating with can see your lips and that you direct your voice directly to them, rather in another direction. Try to avoid covering your mouth as much as possible.
3. Rephrase and simplify – Use words that are easy to interpret when speaking with someone who has hearing difficulties. If the person cannot hear you, or is asking for clarification or repetition, try rephrasing your comments rather than repeating them. Some words or phrases may be especially difficult to hear and can lead to misinterpretation and unnecessary frustration. While it may help to speak somewhat slower, it is important not to shout or over-exaggerate the words you are trying to communicate. Changing the tone of your voice can often help more than raising your speaking volume.
4. Background noise – It is important to alleviate or eliminate extraneous background noise when trying to communicate with someone with hearing loss. For example, try to reduce sounds coming from TVs, monitors, or other conversations happening nearby by either moving away from those sound sources or minimizing volume levels. For example, try closing doors to other rooms or windows that may be the gateway to competing sounds coming from the outside. It is also helpful to ensure only one person is speaking at a time.
5. Lighting – Appropriate lighting is key for individuals with hearing loss in order to be able to see the person they are communicating with and in order to lip read. If the environment is too dark, try turning on lights or moving to a more well-lit setting. Also keep in mind that the lighting of certain environments may be distracting or overwhelming, such as those in which there are window reflections. For older adults especially, it takes a longer time to adapt to changes in lighting.
6. Acoustics – Surrounding materials within environments have the ability to make communication with those affected by hearing loss easier or more difficult. Try to avoid rooms that by design cause an echo to occur. Instead try to communicate in areas that have sound absorbing materials such as carpets or drapes.
7. Assistive Listening Devices – These devices allow users to have control over the volume of conversations, and use technology to provide source amplification, reduce background noise, and enable individuals to hear more clearly. This may involve the use of one or more microphones, speakers, headphones, hearing aids, or captioning as needed.
Utilizing the solutions outlined by the article’s authors, professionals providing care to those with hearing loss can communicate more effectively, deliver better quality care, and in turn, improve overall health and quality of life of those affected. The article specifically highlights the critical importance of nurses in promoting appropriate care for those with hearing loss and providing access to those who need hearing assistance and care. Long-term care providers and direct support staff are also vitally important in championing hearing loss awareness and improving resident outcomes and well-being. As professionals that work first-hand with so many aging residents, these individuals will play a major role in hearing care in the near future as our population continues to age. Effective communication combined with empathy and compassion could deem to be the most effective solution for ending the depression, social isolation, and cognitive decline brought on by hearing loss for so many older adults.