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June 21, 2005

Hearing loss going undetected in nursing homes

Many elderly nursing home residents suffer from hearing loss which is not recognized by the nursing home staff.

Between 53 percent and 63 percent of the residents in a number of nursing homes were found to suffer from serious hearing loss in an American study, but the nursing home staffs were aware of fewer than half of these instances.

The high number of undetected hearing loss points to common failures in the treatment of the elderly. Symptoms such as confusion, withdrawal and disorientation may be caused by untreated hearing loss. But as long as the hearing loss remains undetected there is a risk that the elderly are treated as if they suffered from Alzheimers disease or dementia.

The American study included 279 nursing home residents, 51 nursing staff members and 16 department heads. Interviews with the staff and the elderly and reviews of medical records showed that just 30 out of the 279 nursing home residents had been screened for hearing problems within the most recent year. 39 percent had been treated for excessive earwax, but 81 percent had neither had their hearing tested or earwax removed.

The researchers behind the study recommended improvements in nursing staff training and hearing evaluations to be performed on the nursing home residents. Additionally, they recommended that residents with hearing aids have their hearing aids checked and that hearing aid design and functions be simplified as much as possible to make it easier for the elderly to make full use of them.

Source: Hearing Aid Use in Nursing Homes, Part 1: Prevalence Rates of Hearing Impairment and Hearing Aid Use, and Hearing Aid Use in Nursing Homes, Part 2: Barriers to Effective Utilization of Hearing Aids.
Journal of American Medical Directors Association. September/October 2004.

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