The Journal of the American Medical Directors Association recently published an article reporting the prevalence of hearing loss among older adults in long-term care facilities, as well as the consequences associated with untreated hearing loss. Researchers obtained health data from over 1 million individuals for the study using Minimum Data Set (MDS) reports, and determined that hearing loss is significantly underreported and undertreated within senior communities. According to their findings, one-third of individuals age 70 and older were diagnosed with hearing loss, while nearly 40% of true cases of impairment went undiagnosed using standardized measures.1

These findings demonstrate a national-level problem within the senior living industry, as underdiagnosed hearing loss negatively impacts seniors’ ability to fully engage, communicate their needs, and receive quality care. Studies show that untreated hearing loss is associated with adverse health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia. According to national estimates, this issue will become even more devastating in the coming years, as the prevalence of hearing loss among the persons 80 and older will double over the next 25 years.2

There is a clear need to improve methods of diagnosing and correcting hearing loss among this population. Long-term care facilities and nursing homes especially are characterized by heavy traffic and loud levels of sound among communal spaces where residents spend the majority of their time. Studies have demonstrated that even for individuals with normal hearing that these environments present significant communication challenges.3,4 Due to their inherent sensitivity to sound, older adults in senior living have a significantly increased risk of developing further hearing impairment compared to their community-dwelling peers.

Strategies that enable senior communities to anticipate and correct for hearing loss are imperative in delivering person-centered care and achieving high-quality outcomes. While hearing aids have been the most common solution in the past, hearing assistive technologies have become a more cost-effective and popular mechanism for communities to improve hearing and engagement. Also referred to as assistive listening devices, these technologies amplify and deliver sound directly into the ear. By sending sound directly to the users’ ears these devices bypass challenging acoustics and reduce background noise, reverberation, effects of distance, and improve what is known as the “speech to noise ratio.” They separate the sounds, that a person wants to hear, particularly speech, from competing background noise. Hearing assistive technologies have the power to dramatically improve the lives of people living with hearing loss and can readily enable communities to become more hearing friendly.5

References

  1. McCreedy, E., Weinstein, B., Chodosh, J., & Blustein, J. (2018). Hearing Loss: Why Does It Matter for Nursing Homes? Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 19, 323-327.
  2. Goman, A., Reed, N., Lin, F. (2017). Addressing estimated hearing loss in adults in 2060. JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, 143, 733-734.
  3. Joosse, L. (2011) Sound levels in nursing homes. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 37, 30-35.
  4. Pryce, H., Gooberman-Hill, R. (2012). “There’s a hell of a noise”: Living with a hearing loss in residential care. Age & Ageing, 41, 40-46.
  5. Hearing Loss Association of America. Understanding Hearing Assistive Technology. Retrieved from https://www.hearingloss.org/hearing-help/technology/hat/alds/