Louise Pritchard • Executive Director of Services • Action on Hearing Loss
With 71% of over-70 year olds living with hearing loss across the UK, a large proportion of people living in care homes will be affected by the condition.
Hearing loss can cut people off not only from the people around them, but also forms of entertainment, like the radio and television. Unmanaged, it can negatively impact social interaction and the ability to communicate, leading to isolation.
In 2012, we, Action on Hearing Loss, launched the report A World of Silence, which confirmed that if the hearing loss of care home service users is managed effectively, there is a real chance of improving quality of life.
Hear to Care
With funding from the Department of Health’s Innovation Fund, Action on Hearing Loss is beginning to deliver its Hear to Care project across a selected number of care homes in the North of England.
The pilot scheme will test methods of assessing, identifying and recording hearing loss for care home residents. As hearing loss is a 24/7 condition, care workers will be trained to ensure that managing hearing loss becomes part of daily routine.
Embedding simple changes and improvements into everyday life at homes, will not only have a great effect on residents but also staff and their performance. Whilst our pilot will uncover tried and tested steps in managing hearing loss, in the meantime, we have proposed standards for all care homes to support their residents living with hearing loss, be it diagnosed or undiagnosed.
We would ask staff to be aware of signs that someone has a hearing loss – maybe the individual has the television turned up particularly loudly, or struggles to keep up in conversation with large groups.
Action on Hearing Loss has a simple online hearing check which can indicate whether someone may have a hearing loss and within the pilot, regular screening will take place directly within homes to ensure that it is recognised.
Once hearing loss has been diagnosed, it should be clearly documented and recorded, for instance within a resident’s care record. This means whichever staff member is on duty understands their needs instantly. By applying a person-centred approach, this can not only help with combatting the isolation which hearing loss might cause, but highlight other health conditions to ensure that these are also managed effectively.
If a resident has already been issued NHS hearing aids, these will need to be properly maintained. I recently visited a care home where a member of Action on Hearing Loss staff was handling an individual’s hearing aid, which they had stuffed in a drawer as they thought it wasn’t working. In simply changing the battery, the look on the man’s face when he put it in his ear to hear sounds clearly again was incredible.
We understand that hearing aids, whilst being the main solution, aren’t for everyone but this doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. Recommending other assistive equipment, such as personal listening devices, may make the difference between a resident joining in discussion with others in the lounge and them feeling isolated in the corner of the room, unable to join in.
These tips only begin to touch on what can be done for those in care settings living with hearing loss. At the end of our pilot project, we plan to produce structured guidance and a toolkit, which will be made available to mainstream care providers across England. This will also be shared with the Care Quality Commission and other key health and social care organisations to promote best practice.
Hearing loss should be a priority in all care home settings in order to help people live well. We’re calling on all care home managers and staff to keep these simple recommendations in the forefront of their minds and support the Hear to Care project.
Louise Pritchard is Executive Director of Services at Action on Hearing Loss. Twitter: @ActionOnHearing
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