Hearing loss is a major public health issue, it affects more than 11 million people across the UK – that’s one in six of us.
The most common type of hearing loss is called ‘presbycusis’ or ‘age-related hearing loss’, which develops gradually with age. Around 71% of people aged over 70 have some kind of hearing loss and it’s estimated that 75% of people in a care home have hearing loss too. This will increase to 80% by 2032.
If people are not properly supported to manage hearing loss effectively, it can lead to:
- Communication difficulties.
- Social isolation and loneliness.
- Anger and frustration.
- Low confidence, especially in social settings.
Added to this, our 2015 report Hearing Matters highlighted that hearing loss:
- Doubles the risk of developing depression.
- Increases the risk of anxiety and other mental health issues.
- Increases the risk of developing dementia.
- Is linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke and obesity.
- May be linked to sight loss and more frequent falls.
Our 2012 research report A World of Silence showed how, if the hearing loss of care home residents is identified and managed effectively, there is a real chance of improving their quality of life by improving their overall health and wellbeing.
Hear to Care
In 2014, to address this, Action on Hearing Loss secured funding from the Department of Health to improve long-term care and support for older people living with hearing loss in care homes.
The project – called Hear to Care – saw the charity work with more than 100 care staff across seven care settings in Leeds, Rotherham, Manchester, Cheshire and North Staffordshire.
Over the last two and half years that the pilot has been running, the teams found that each home had a different way of working, depending on the needs of residents with hearing loss. This, ultimately, meant there was no set procedure or standard across the board for supporting people with hearing loss in care homes.
Despite staff taking the time to communicate and listen to those people with hearing loss, research undertaken as part of the project found that a high turnover of employees led to skilled staff being lost from settings. This was exacerbated by a lack of time and resources for training on hearing loss issues.
To overcome this, the project delivered training to 114 care home staff in all target areas and the results have been used to produce new guidance for providers.
Hear to Care training
The care home staff training delivered as part of the project included:
- Understanding the impact of hearing loss, deafness and tinnitus.
- How to identify a resident with hearing loss.
- Communication tips.
- Using a screener to check for hearing loss.
- How to use a personal listener.
- Managing hearing aids.
Four care workers were also appointed as ‘Hearing Loss Champions’. Their role was to raise awareness, knowledge and understanding of hearing loss and hearing aids amongst colleagues, and be a key link to local audiology and other hearing services.
The project piloted and tested changes that can be made to improve the diagnosis and management of hearing loss among care home residents.
Julie, a care home manager who participated in the project said, ‘The Hear to Care project has helped by developing staff understanding of the importance of identifying hearing impairments in our customers and referring them to the audiology services.
‘For those customers who already have hearing aids, staff have an increased knowledge of the importance of cleaning the hearing aid and how this can be done by taking the tubing apart, which a lot of staff did not know they could do.
‘The services we already had included one customer having a conversation listener that staff use to communicate with her. We are looking at hopefully installing a loop system and purchasing another conversation listener.
‘Overall, improved communication between staff and customers has been beneficial, with staff picking up on hearing problems a little faster and making referrals.’
The project provided Action on Hearing Loss with a real insight into the needs of residents in care settings with hearing loss, and also into the daily challenges facing the staff supporting and caring for these residents.
Upon evaluation of the project, we have seen a real increase in the knowledge, skills and confidence of staff in identifying and supporting people with hearing loss.
The residents involved with the project have reported many positive outcomes, such as using equipment to enable them to hear staff better and gaining hearing aids through the support of staff and audiology departments working together.
As a result of the project’s findings, Action on Hearing Loss has produced its Hear to Care guide and a range of easy-to-use information sheets to support care home managers and staff to:
- Identify and check for hearing loss.
- Improve hearing aid use and management.
- Meet communication needs.
- Provide assistive listening devices.
- Identify and manage other ear problems, such as tinnitus and ear-wax blockages.
- Appoint Hearing Loss Champions.
Hear to Care has found how simple interventions and training can help to raise the quality of life of people with hearing loss living in care homes. It also concludes that there is potential benefit to offering hearing checks to all residents on arrival to the care home, and every 12 months thereafter.
However, it’s important to be aware that hearing loss can sometimes be misdiagnosed as dementia, or can make the symptoms of dementia appear worse. Diagnosing and managing hearing loss, and taking a person’s hearing loss into account when diagnosing and managing other conditions, are therefore essential to ensuring good communication and
More information on Hear to Care is also available from Action on Hearing Loss.