Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

Health care settings use the latest science, research, and technology to help us become healthy and stay that way. With this emphasis on data and experimentation, it might seem possible to remove the human element from caregiving altogether. With the right diagnostic information, doctor’s don’t need to form relationships anymore, right? Wrong. Interpersonal relationships show up in study after study as a significant measure of the quality of care. Not only do patients report higher satisfaction with their encounters with healthcare personnel and increased likelihood to return to the hospital for follow-up and other visits, but the quantitative measures of their physical health are improved, as well. 

With this human element such an important part of healthcare, we can focus more and more attention on what makes an interaction with a doctor, nurse, or other caregiver a good experience. It’s not enough to find that the person is amiable and likeable. Patients need to feel trust in the level of communication achieved with their caregivers. One of the potential barriers to that communication is untreated hearing loss. When a person does not have adequate hearing ability in a healthcare environment, conversations can become difficult to navigate. Let’s consider when and where hearing loss might become an issue, as well as what accommodations can step in to assist.

Hearing Loss in Healthcare Environments

Some healthcare environments are set up to facilitate conversations with those who have hearing loss. Particularly in cases of profound or severe hearing loss, healthcare settings are required to provide sign language interpreters or assistive devices to make communication possible. The best healthcare facilities not only provide quiet rooms for conversations, but they can also have telecoil or induction loop technologies in place to amplify the voice of a doctor to a volume that a person can hear. 

Although some environments are equipped to provide a clear conversation, many others are a confluence of bad circumstances. Take, for instance, an emergency room or urgent care center. The first step is to check in with the front desk amidst a sea of other patients waiting to be helped. The crosstalk from other patients can make it difficult to answer the basic demographic and insurance questions up front. The next step is often a triage room, which may or may not have a door. These questions and their appropriate answers are crucial to the right line of treatment. 

When diagnosing the nature of the emergency, a loud facility with EMTs and other patients traveling through can be enough to stymie the conversation or even to lead the triage nurse down the wrong path of treatment. Once basic treatment has been rendered, a meeting with the doctor is usually the next step, and yet beds in an open space with curtains as walls will seldom provide a quiet sonic environment to hear the doctor’s questions. 

With these many noisy steps through the urgent care center, you can see why an older person with untreated hearing loss is more likely to receive inadequate care. They are even more likely to have a return visit, and researchers speculate that some of those increased return visits have to do with misdiagnosis at the first appointment. 

Accommodations and Treatment

One step you can take is to advocate for better accommodations for your loved ones with hearing loss. Moving conversations to a room with a closed door can make an immense improvement in hearing ability, and you can serve as an ad hoc interpreter in some cases where you feel comfortable relaying questions at a closer distance to your loved one. If more advanced accommodations are necessary, all you need to do is ask, and the hospital will provide a sign language interpreter or other assistive technology. 

However, the durable solution for many people with hearing loss is to get treatment. With a thorough diagnosis of hearing ability and an assessment of the right hearing aid options, your loved one can be paired with hearing aids that will make the healthcare process easier and conversations more fluid. 

Don’t hesitate helping your loved one make the appointment if the time has come for a hearing exam and consultation with one of our hearing healthcare providers.