Many care home residents with dementia struggle to receive adequate care for hearing loss according to a new study at The University of Manchester.
Over 70% of care home residents have dementia. This new study suggests that over 75% of these residents are also hard of hearing – something that is often overlooked – and found that more training and resources would improve residents’ quality of life.
This study initially began in 2020 as a survey of 165 people working in care homes in England and Wales. Staff were asked to answer questions about the levels of care provided for residents with hearing loss.
The results of this survey found that 50% of care homes were providing no support for those with hearing loss and only 27% were checking if residents’ hearing aids were working properly. The reason cited for this was largely due to the lack of resources available to the facilities, such as little training on hearing care for staff, as well as staff shortages generally.
Following this initial study, ten in-depth interviews were conducted with staff from eight different care homes, which reaffirmed and created a more detailed understanding of the survey results.
Little to no resources was still one of the largest factors in the lack of hearing care, with all participants claiming that audiologists visited care homes far less than other health care professionals. Two of the interviewees said they had never seen an audiologist in the homes where they worked.
Another major factor noted by all participants was a lack of training for staff about hearing loss, with under 25% of staff reporting any training on issues related to hearing loss at all.
Dr Hannah Cross, the lead author of the study said: “[The staff] all said they wished they had more training in hearing loss. It wasn’t from not wanting to do it. They really wanted to know more, but it wasn’t in the basic training packages when they started. They were all really motivated to provide the care, it’s just that it was really difficult.”
The importance of hearing care
The study suggests that basic training into hearing support, hearing aids and communication techniques would be highly beneficial to residents. For example, the use of communication cards could be more effective than verbally asking or answering residents questions.
Currently, training on hearing loss in care homes is not mandatory in the UK, but the researchers responsible for this study argue that education for staff would significantly improve resident’s quality of life.
“We think a radical overhaul of training and service provision is needed if we are to help people living in care homes with dementia and hearing loss… without a doubt, greater co-operation between care homes and audiology services is desperately needed, so residents have equitable access to healthcare services, ideally within the care home.”Dr Hannah Cross
For individuals with dementia, care is particularly important as hearing loss can often be mistaken for symptoms of their illness, such as communication difficulties, which can be a symptom of both disabilities. Hearing loss leads to further agitation and confusion, which ultimately causes increased loneliness and social isolation.
The study acknowledges that hearing loss is often not prioritised in care homes in comparison to other issues, such as dehydration, infections or injuries. Due to heavy work loads and limitations on staff’s time, little to no time is dedicated to hearing care. Respondents argued that more staff would be needed for hearing care to be given the necessary attention.
Hearing care is essential to resident’s happiness and health, and more should be done to tackle this issue. For example, it would be beneficial if staff better understood, and could trouble-shoot, how their residents hearing equipment works and could recognise when hearing aids are not working properly. Other research also recommends reducing background noise in communal areas, such as turning of the TV if it’s not being watched, and ensuring rooms are well lit, enabling residents to lip read.
Communication is vital to understanding the wants and needs of residents. Lack of it affects their ability to engage in mentally stimulating activities, which is critical to supporting their mental wellbeing.
The study highlights how much of an important issue hearing loss and dementia in care homes is and investigates what should be done to improve the lives of residents.
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