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People with dementia ‘unsupported with hearing problems’

Study reveals lack of provision in care homes for people who struggle with their hearing

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People with dementia in care homes who also struggle with their hearing are not receiving the care they desperately need, new research has revealed. 

The anonymised study of staff from eight different care homes revealed how residents were largely unable to access audiology services.

The problem is particularly relevant in the UK, where around 70 per cent of long-term care home residents have dementia and 85 per cent have hearing loss.

“People with dementia already are some of the most vulnerable people in society,” said lead author Dr Hannah Cross, at the University of Manchester. 

“And because hearing loss in these people can exacerbate agitation, confusion, increase loneliness and social withdrawal, the task of providing high quality care is even more important.”

All the participants in the study said audiologists rarely visit care homes compared to other healthcare professionals; two said they had never had seen one at all.

Though most of the staff interviewed by the researchers believed hearing support was beneficial, lack of training meant they did not have the knowledge to implement it effectively.

Staff, for example, found it hard to recognise if residents’ communication difficulties are caused by dementia or hearing loss.

Training on hearing loss for care home staff is not mandatory in the UK.

But basic hearing support training, hearing aids, communication techniques and other tools such as flashcards, would make a difference to residents’ quality of life, argue the researchers.

Dr Cross said: “Often residents with dementia are expected to attend audiology clinics outside their care home, mostly in a hospital or clinic. That causes stress and confusion for residents, on the occasions they are able to attend.

“For care home residents with dementia, it is completely up to professional care staff and audiologists to support them and their hearing needs.

“Effectively treating their hearing problems can really improve the quality of life for residents and their carers.”

The study was conducted online at the height of the pandemic, when care homes were largely cut off from public access.

However the problems caused by the pandemic seemed to make little difference to audiology services received by residents, who were already receiving minimal care.

She added: “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.

“Staff Hearing Champions’ have been recommended, though without proper incentivisation it’s not clear how much of an impact they would make for staff who already have a very high workload.

“But 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.

“And training for staff around hearing aid maintenance and communication techniques will also make a difference.”

HIWIN

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