Age-related hearing impairment is a significant issue for those members of the older adult community. An estimated 33% of individuals over the age of 65 have some form of hearing loss. By age 75, that number increases to over 50%. For adults over the age of 85 years old, the prevalence of age-related hearing loss increases to an astounding 80%¹. As senior living communities serve members of the 65 and over demographic, it’s crucial to be aware of the problems that are unique to members of this age group.
With this knowledge, communities can create effective strategies to combat hearing loss within the community. However, to best address the problem of hearing loss and implement viable solutions, it’s essential to understand the far-reaching consequences of hearing impairment. Lisa Rickard Au.D hosted a webinar that provides a wealth of information about the consequences of hearing impairment on the senior living community.
In this guide, we summarize the points made in Rickard’s webinar and dive deep into the consequences of untreated age-related hearing loss within senior living communities.
Age-related hearing loss
As the name suggests, age-related hearing loss affects older adults as a part of the aging process. It’s important to note that age-related hearing loss impacts everyone differently. Some seniors may suffer from severe hearing impairment, while others have more mild cases.
That said, all cases of age-related hearing loss can have a negative effect on the healthy aging process. Here’s a breakdown of the aspects of healthy aging that hearing loss can influence.
- Keeping socially engaged and active. Hearing impairment makes it difficult to communicate with others, as a result, many seniors may isolate themselves from others in an attempt to avoid embarrassing or difficult situations. It has been shown that social isolation can impact one’s health as if they were smoking 15 cigarettes per day2.
- Avoiding injury. Hearing loss is linked to increased falls and reduced mobility and function. Additionally, hearing-impaired adults may have difficulty hearing them and can find themselves unaware of emergency situations.
- Cognitive vitality and avoiding dementia. Hearing loss is linked to cognitive decline which directly causes reduced cognitive vitality and increased risk of developing dementia.
- Health resource utilization. As it may be difficult to communicate with healthcare providers, which makes it challenging to receive and pursue care.
In short, hearing loss affects all the factors related to healthy aging. As hearing loss presents such a significant danger to healthy aging, it should be treated as a major threat.
The link between hearing loss and cognitive decline
Multiple studies have been done to study the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, as they seem to go hand-in-hand. Primary research attempted to find a pathological process linking the two, but the results were surprising. There is no common pathological process linking hearing loss and cognitive decline3.
Research then shifted to other possible links, and researchers believe that there are three mechanistic pathways that have been identified as potential links. Here’s a brief explanation of the mechanistic pathways that may link hearing loss and cognitive decline.
- Cognitive Load: The brain reallocates cognitive resources to try to decipher garbled auditory information it receives. Doing this constantly, as individuals with hearing loss must do, may cause other cognitive areas of the brain to suffer from reduced function, as more resources are being allocated elsewhere.
- Brain Structure/Function: Hearing loss may cause atrophy and volume reduction in the brain’s lateral hearing lobe. Research studying the MRIs of individuals with hearing loss show decreased language activity. Other MRIs show other areas of the brain being recruited to help with the encoding and decoding of auditory stimuli4.
- Social Isolation: Social isolation alone causes cognitive decline. An in-depth review of several studies showed an inherent link between hearing loss and social isolation. Many seniors with hearing loss experience a loss of interaction with others because communication requires abilities that they no longer have.
Treatment can mitigate the negative effects of hearing loss
Fortunately, although age-related hearing loss cannot be reversed, it can be effectively treated. Treatment of age-related hearing loss can help to reduce the cognitive load that the brain is encumbered with by enhancing the clarity of auditory information received5. In short, the clearer the audio that comes in, the less work the brain has to do to encode and decode it.
Additionally, treatment of hearing loss helps to ease the effort required to communicate can help to reduce the rate of social isolation among those with hearing loss6. It is not currently known whether treatment of hearing loss can effectively delay or halt cognitive decline.
Unfortunately, treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids and other hearing assistance devices is hindered by social stigma, poor affordability, and limited accessibility. As a result, fewer than 33% of those over the age of 70 years old who could benefit from using a hearing aid have actually used one7.
Providing Care for Residents with Hearing Loss
Within senior living communities which generally have a significant population of individuals affected by age-related hearing loss, providing proper care is essential. Ideally, senior living community leaders would have already taken the necessary steps to mitigate the negative impact of hearing impairment within their community. However, there are many communities that are in the process of implementing enhanced care strategies for hearing impaired residents. Here are some of the steps and solutions that every community should have in place as a part of their hearing impairment care strategy.
- Provide hearing assistance devices to residents, especially those that can be employed in group settings to reduce social isolation.
- Address reversible causes of hearing difficulty. For example, if a resident uses hearing aids, ensure that they are using them and that they are functioning properly.
- Adjust the environment to help reduce background noise. This will generally improve the efficacy of hearing assistance devices and reduce the extraneous noise that then further garbles audio information to be processed by the brain.
- Educate staff on the most effective strategies to employ when communicating with hearing-impaired residents. Additionally, ensure that staff are aware of the challenges to communicating that residents suffering from hearing loss must face.
- Consider different communication strategies such as ASL or using signage, to facilitate more effective communication between staff and hearing-impaired residents.
Addressing Hearing Loss with Eversound
In addition to the aforementioned care, senior living communities looking to implement an effective hearing assistance and communication tool, Eversound is the right solution.
The Eversound wireless listening system includes wireless headphones and a system transmitter. The wireless headphone’s volume can be easily adjusted to meet the auditory needs of each resident. Moreover, Eversound’s headphones are hearing aid compliant and can be used with or without hearing aids.
The transmitter can connect to a microphone, wired or wireless, and can be used to amplify and deliver the speaker’s voice right to the resident’s headphones. Additionally, the transmitter can be connected to an audio source so that residents can hear both microphone audio and additional audio.
Up to 150 headphones can be connected to a single transmitter with a range of up to 300 feet. There are endless applications of the Eversound system that senior living communities can leverage, from support during group activities, one on one interactions with care staff, family visits, and even bus trips. Overall, Eversound’s headphone solution is perfect for creating a more accessible environment for those with hearing loss.
“Eversound is a huge benefit during these times of social distancing..even when over, it is huge in getting residents engaged in social interactions, activities,..” Dr. Lisa Rickard, AuD, University of Maryland
For more information, check out Lisa Rickard Au.D’s hearing loss webinar to learn more about the consequences of hearing loss in senior living communities and how Eversound can be used to combat hearing loss.
- Hearing Loss in Older Adults, Anne D. Walling, Gretchen M. Dickinson, June 2020.
- The “Loneliness Epidemic”, HRSA, Jan 2019
- Hearing Loss and Dementia – Who’s Listening?, Frank R. Lin, Marilyn Albert, Aug 2015
- Association of hearing impairment with brain volume changes in older adults, Frank R Lin, 2014
- Aging, cognitive load, dementia and hearing loss, Alessandro Martini 1, Alessandro Castiglione, Feb 2015
- Relating Hearing Aid Use to Social and Emotional Loneliness in Older Adults, Barbara E Weinstein, Lynn W Sirow, Sarah Moser, 2016.
- Use of Hearing Aids by Adults with Hearing Loss, NIH, 2014.