Recall the last time you were in a healthcare environment. What did it sound like? Although some clinics, offices, and particularly the private patient rooms of family practice medical facilities can be relatively quiet, many of them are not. With the beeping sounds of machines, noisy equipment, care givers discussion options, and a host of other distractions, the healthcare environment can be anything but conducive to careful listening.
Particularly in emergency and trauma response settings, the chaos of interfacing with the public can make it difficult to communicate. Although some people are able to deal with this noisy and fragmented environment, one particularly population can have trouble: those with hearing loss.
Older adults with hearing loss have been found to struggle with the noisy environments of many health care facilities, making it nearly impossible to communicate fluidly with care professionals. That communication needs to go in both directions, not only listening to what the doctor, nurse, or other professional has to say, but also being able to respond accurately to the questions they ask. Without understanding the questions, due to a chaotic sonic environment, responses may not be accurate, leading to gaps or inaccuracies in diagnosis, treatment, and overall care.
Indeed hearing loss has been shown to affect health care, particularly among older adults. The stress of a challenging hearing environment is one thing, but the inability to communicate about health conditions can lead to serious problems such as misdiagnosis and prescribing treatments that are ineffective or even harmful to an individual. For these reasons, there are steps to be taken by clinicians, healthcare advocates, and the support network surrounding those with hearing loss. Let’s look at each category of caregivers individually to consider what can be done.
Those who provide health care in clinical settings, such as doctors, nurses, and other specialists, will know that communication is crucial to the provision of care. If you, as a clinician, are interacting with an older person who is hard of hearing, take some practical steps to improve the environment. When possible, close a door to public spaces. When doors are not available, limit the noise and cross talk in the area. Stand as close to the patient as is comfortable for both of you, and remember to maintain a face-to-face orientation. It can be helpful to repeat questions and answers to the patient’s support network, as well. If you have any sense that a communication gap might be inhibiting the provision of care, find a quiet location in the building for your conversation.
At the level of healthcare policy, advocates can take steps to improve the listening environment of facilities. Emergent care can be the most difficult listening environment in many hospitals, and you can advocate for rooms specifically designed for conversation with those who are hard of hearing. Just one room in an ER or urgent care facility that is sound-proofed or a few steps away from the chaos of the trauma center can be enough to offer a calm conversation to those who have some hearing loss.
If you are in the support network of an older adult with hearing loss, you can do a great deal to advocate for their needs in the healthcare system. Seeking out quiet places for conversation is the first step, and you can also ask healthcare providers to remove any machines or equipment that issue undue noise.
If the crosstalk in the facility is too confusing, request to move your diagnostic location somewhere quieter. Perhaps the best thing you can do to assist your older loved one with hearing loss is to help them acquire hearing assistance.
Hearing Care Centers
Hearing aids are a remarkable solution for many people who have mild to serious hearing loss, and you might be surprised how much more self-sufficient your loved one can be with a little hearing assistance. Take the opportunity to schedule an appointment with us at Hearing Care Centers for a hearing test and consultation. Once you have a clear diagnosis of your loved one’s hearing ability, you can embark on the journey toward solutions. Hearing aids improve many facets of life, but they can also improve the level of healthcare in many settings.