Hearing loss is the most common condition in the aging process, leaving a huge impact on everyday life within senior living communities. In fact, 81% of those over 80 have hearing loss, and only 22% wear hearing aids. This leaves 65% of community residents living with untreated hearing loss.
Aside from the social and mental stress that results from hearing loss, leading to anxiety and isolation, physical health is also greatly affected and under-discussed. Hearing loss is seen by many people to be a communication disorder, but it may have much more wide-ranging consequences.
The Connection: How it Effects on the Body
Hearing loss is directly connected to faster declines in physical function among the older population. When residents have difficulty hearing, it impairs their communication and alters the auditory cues important for safely moving in their environment.
Most notably, the inner workings of the ears play a key part in maintaining balance, which in turn prevents injurious falls. Movement and coordination rely on acoustic inputs from the environment, and loss of hearing may reduce the ability to make complex movements efficiently. Adversely, residents with even mild hearing impairment are 3X more likely to fall.
As residents walk, their ears pick up subtle cues that help with balance. Hearing loss interferes with these important signals, making their brains work harder just to process sound. This neural multitasking may interfere with the mental processing needed to walk safely.
The Health Impacts
Issues with balance, gait speed, and walking endurance indicate that hearing loss affects lower extremity function, but there are other physical impacts as well.
The arteries harden or narrow when a person has an underlying heart illness. That restricts blood flow to the cochlea in the ear, which translates sound into nerve impulses to be sent to the brain. If the cochlea doesn’t get enough oxygen through the blood, it doesn’t work properly, resulting in impaired hearing. That’s also why hearing deterioration can be a sign of a heart problem.
The parts of the brain responsible for hearing can shrink, or atrophy, from lack of use. This auditory deprivation means that the brain has difficulty understanding and processing information due to lack of stimulation. As expected, the shrinkage occurs mostly in the parts of the brain responsible for speech, balance and memory.
There are also challenges when it comes to hearing impairment and brain processing speeds. As people age, connections between cells in the brain are damaged or lost—a process that is known simply as “cognitive decline.” These “senior moments”, or cognitive load, can lead to depression, fatigue, social withdrawal, impaired memory and dementia. Most recently, a study published in July 2021 found that people who struggle to hear speech were more likely to develop dementia than those with normal hearing, as measured over an 11-year period.
Hearing loss remains a low priority issue for policy makers and the general public are still unsure whether it is a lifestyle issue, a health care cost issue, or a public health concern. It’s no wonder why senior living communities are feeling its effects most strongly. For such communities, understanding these risks is important for implementing interventions to mitigate the loss of hearing as well as prevent declines in physical and cognitive functioning.
Addressing the Impact of Hearing Loss on your Community
To get that connectedness, senior living communities are on a mission to instill a sense of community and drive connectedness among residents and their family members and care teams. But untreated hearing loss can make it difficult to facilitate group activities, which helps to bring the community together. Hearing loss can lead to social isolation and a lack of desire to participate in activities. When everyone is not participating in a group activity, it makes it difficult for the staff members to manage the group effectively.
Lack of cooperation due to hearing loss creates frustration for both staff members and residents. This frustration makes it much more challenging for a staff member to communicate in a way residents understand and therefore make that personal connection the communities and resident families come to expect. This stress can lead to a drop in successful job performance and deplete workplace morale. Other effects of social isolation include:
Safety Protocols Preventing Closeness
For those communities allowing in-person visitation, physical barriers or extended distances and mask wearing can muffle sound and prevent the natural use of lip reading, making it difficult for residents to hear loved ones. This causes residents and family members added frustration because it can be perceived as not listening, paying attention, or caring about what is being said.
Programming Becomes Less Efficient
The inability to communicate well makes it much harder to remain an active, engaged member of the community and reduce one’s activity and participation. Residents who are unable to overcome auditory impairment are less likely to attend or feel confident understanding community-wide programs, leading to decreased rates of resident engagement and mood.
Decrease in ROI With Underutilized Investments
As residents opt-out of amenities or cannot perceive value in them due to hearing limitations, investments go underused, leaving residents and families less satisfied.
Impeding Physical Decline Due to Loss of Hearing with Eversound
Although age-related hearing loss can not be reversed, it can be treated and managed effectively. There are ways to mitigate hearing impairment and keep residents connected — a first line of defense against risking physical health.
The solution to avoiding the negative physical effects of losing hearing within the senior living community is to implement tools and resources to treat residents with hearing loss. Doing so will mitigate the repercussions of hearing loss within a senior living community with results that show:
- Reduced risk of injurious falls in the community due to better auditory cues for balance
- Continued cognitive stimulation to avoid atrophy and escalating hearing loss
- Improved communication between staff members and residents, decreasing conflicts due to ineffective communication
- More enjoyable and effective group activities as more residents will be inspired to participate in them
- Happier and more satisfied residents and family members who aren’t frustrated by the limitations of their hearing loss
One of the best ways to easily address the effects of hearing impairment is to make the necessary accommodations— starting with Eversound.
Eversound is a hearing assistance solution designed with senior living communities in mind. Eversound’s transmitters broadcast sound directly to Eversound headphones. For residents with hearing loss, Eversound headphones can be adjusted to amplify sound and reduce the effects of hearing loss when being worn. In short, Eversound provides a sound solution for senior living community staff and residents.
Want to learn more about how Eversound can help your senior living community residents enhance their physical health and overcome the effects of untreated hearing loss? Get in touch today.