‘Action on Hearing Loss’ have published guidance for staff in residential care homes designed to support service users who have hearing loss.
The central thrust of the guidance is a recognition that deafness and hearing loss shouldn’t stop older people living well in residential care homes. The guide provides practical tips and advice for care staff on improving the quality of care for older people who are deaf or have hearing loss.
More than two-thirds of older people have hearing loss. Around 71% of people aged over 70 have some kind of hearing loss. It’s estimated that 75% of people in a care home have hearing loss – and that this will increase to 80% by 2032. Unaddressed, this can lead to social isolation and an increased risk of other health problems, such as depression and dementia. There is solid that hearing aids can reduce these risks, but the problem is that too many older people are waiting far too long to get their hearing tested or face barriers seeking help because of other conditions.
People who are deaf who use British Sign Language (BSL) may be at risk of loneliness and loss of cultural identity if they are unable to communicate in a meaningful way in BSL with care staff or other people in their care home.
How care staff can help?
1.0 Care staff should be alert to the early signs of hearing loss
The assessment of service users should offer service users the opportunity to have a hearing test. When new residents arrive at the home, staff should be aware of the signs of hearing loss, such as asking others to repeat things, failing to follow conversation in noisy places and behavioural changes, such as withdrawal from social activities.
A ‘Hearing check‘ can help identify people who may need a hearing test.
2.0 Provision of support to ensure older people get the most out of their hearing aids
Where a person has a hearing aid, staff should record this in the service users care plan and make a note of other accessories that may be needed, such as replacement batteries or tubing. When someone is fitted with hearing aids by their audiologist, they should be provided with written instructions on how to operate and maintain their hearing aids.
Staff should carry out regular checks to make sure their hearing aids are functioning and fitted correctly. If hearing aids are worn continuously, hearing aid batteries typically last no more than a week and hearing aid earmoulds and tubing require regular cleaning.
3.0 Ask older people if they need help to communicate or understand information
If older people who are deaf or have hearing loss need staff to follow simple communication tips or if they need more communication time when receiving care, make sure this is recorded in their care plan.
In England, ensuring communication and information needs are recorded and met is a legal requirement under NHS England’s Accessible Information Standard.
4.0 Make sure the care home environment is welcoming for older people with hearing loss
A high level of background noise can make it difficult for older people with hearing loss to understand what is being said and participate fully in conversations and social activities. Carpeted floors, padded tablecloths and soft furnishings should be used wherever possible to help absorb background noise.
Older people with hearing loss may also benefit from assistive technology, such as hearing loops, personal listeners and flashing smoke alarms
5.0 Take account of the cultural and communication needs of older people who are deaf
Older people who are deaf are less likely to benefit from hearing aids and they may need specialist care and support that recognises the unique language and culture of the deaf community.
They may also need support from a qualified BSL interpreter, as well as help to contact family and friends and local Deaf clubs or other community groups.
Given that there is evidence that it is estimated that 75% of people in a care home have hearing loss, it is essential that care homes adopt a strategy to support service users who suffer with this problem. The guidance provided for staff by ‘Action on Hearing Loss’ should be followed. Hearing loss should form part of the assessment process, and actions to support service users contained in the care plan. This will ensure that service users can still retain quality of life.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute
Bettal Quality Consultancy