Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults
If you have hearing loss, you know that it can be frustrating to try to communicate when you have it. Voices seem muffled and distant. You ask people to repeat themselves often. It is difficult or impossible to carry on a conversation, especially if there is any background noise.
Now imagine having those same hearing issues in the context of a medical emergency. Doctors and nurses need to communicate with you, but hearing them is difficult. The hospital environment can be busy and noisy, exacerbating the problem. While medical staff try to communicate important information and ask you crucial questions about your condition, you struggle to hear them. You may give answers to questions other than the ones you were asked. In addition to hearing loss, you may be experiencing pain and/or foggy thinking related to the issue that brought you to the hospital, making it even more difficult to focus on what your doctors and nurses are saying.
Hearing Loss Increases Risk of Readmission
A study from New York University in New York City looked at data from a national survey. Researchers found that patients who reported having trouble understanding their doctors were 32% more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within one month of discharge,
We might expect that hospital staff would recognize a patient’s hearing loss and provide ALDs (assistive listening devices) to facilitate communication, and indeed some do. Unfortunately, however, there is no national regulation for this, and it is left to individual hospitals to determine what, if anything, they will do to overcome communication problems related to patients’ hearing loss.
An additional barrier to the effective treatment of those with hearing loss is that many patients with hearing loss may be in denial. If hearing loss treatment is not a normal aspect of their lifestyle, they may not register the unique significance of communication in the hospital setting, even when their health is at stake.
Even when a patient must have their hearing aids removed in the course of treatment, the fact that their hearing aids are present in the hospital is a flag to hospital staff that the patient has hearing loss, and the hearing aids can be reinserted after emergency treatment whenever communication is necessary. Patients who wear hearing aids regularly are also, of course, more inclined to recognize that they need their hearing aids, and ask for them in order to hear clearly. In short, they are more habituated to the importance of effective communication!
Hearing Loss is Associated with Health Problems
At the same time as hearing loss makes it more likely that we will be readmitted to the hospital once discharged, it also makes it more likely that we will be admitted to the hospital in the first place. In fact, those with untreated hearing loss tend to report having worse health and more health problems than those with normal hearing or hearing aids.
Hearing loss, itself, can be a consequence of poor cardiovascular health. Hearing loss that progresses faster than normal may be an indicator of an underlying cardiovascular condition. Diabetes also increases the risk of hearing loss, especially when blood sugar is not managed carefully. Because our hearing ability is contingent on the health of tiny cells called stereocilia, which are fed by tiny blood vessels, problems with cardiovascular health and diabetes can affect our ears before affecting other parts of the body that have more robust vasculature.
Hearing Loss Increases the Risk of Accidental Injury
Finally, hearing loss also increases the likelihood that we will have an accident requiring hospitalization. We use our ears to avoid danger, as well as to help us balance. Without the ability to hear properly, we are at a higher risk of injury from environmental dangers and falling down.
Hearing Aids Can Help
Hearing aids help us to better-understand the world around us. In addition to keeping us out of the hospital and reducing the likelihood of a quick return, they help us feel more at ease in the world. Those who get hearing aids tend to engage in more physical activity and spend more time out of doors than those with untreated hearing loss. This is likely because hearing loss makes us feel less safe—and, in fact, we are less safe when we cannot hear properly!
But it doesn’t have to be that way. A good set of hearing aids can help you get the information you need from your ears to communicate effectively and navigate the world confidently. If you or a loved one is having hearing issues, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to improve your life!