Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Kim Greive

Kim Greive
Latest posts by Kim Greive (see all)

Effective healthcare can be a challenge for many adults, and recent research is pointing to ways in which hearing loss may play a role. A study published out of New York University, New York City found that in older populations significant hearing loss correlated with hospital readmissions. This means that patients with untreated hearing loss who were admitted to the hospital were 32% more likely to be readmitted within 30 days, compared to patients without hearing loss. 

What may initially seem like an odd correlation may directly point to a major issue in healthcare: effective communication. 

Hearing and Healing

A visit to the doctor may seem cut-and-dry, but addressing or recovering from a health issue requires understanding on both the part of the medical provider and the patient. Many aspects of healing rely on a patient’s comprehensive understanding of a doctor’s instructions. This can include everything from specific medication instructions to recognizing important symptoms if they arise. 

Your visit with a doctor requires two-way communication. You will have to effectively describe health issues and health history and they will need to respond with a plan for treatment that can be accessed and adhered to. When hearing loss is a factor in a doctor-patient interaction, communication can be severely disrupted. 

Patients who have difficulty hearing or comprehending their medical instructions when delivered verbally may easily misinterpret or lose important information. In the conclusion of the NYU study, it is suggested that this communication gap that is created is a large part of what accounts for the gap in readmission rates. 

Hearing Loss and Stigma

There are many reasons people with untreated hearing loss may struggle to reach effective communication with their medical provider. Many patients may feel the gaps in their comprehension are insignificant, or are in denial about their hearing challenges. Others may feel they are taking up too much of a provider’s time if they require information repeated or delivered in multiple formats. Often, the desire to “go with the flow” keeps older patients with hearing loss from mentioning their hearing challenges or insisting upon full comprehension of their medical treatment plan.

Unfortunately, this reluctance to ask for additional assistance leaves them open to being underserved by their healthcare. Failing to comprehend medical advice and instructions is evidently leading to worse health outcomes, as the NYU study demonstrates.

Improving Healthcare Communication

With the finding that patients with untreated hearing loss are 32% more likely to be readmitted to a hospital within a month’s time, there is ample evidence that healthcare communication can be greatly improved. Accounting for hearing challenges, even when undiagnosed, should be a necessary approach in medical institutions. A full run-down of a patient’s treatment plan including medication instruction, lifestyle changes and other important advice should be presented to the patient in multiple formats. 

Additionally, patients should be asked to repeat important health instructions to make sure they are fully understood. Misunderstandings need to be detected and corrected before the patient is discharged to make sure they can properly adhere to instructions on their own.

Treating Hearing Loss

Worsened health outcomes isn’t the only impact untreated hearing loss can make on your life. Untreated hearing loss also comes with increased risk of depression, anxiety and isolation. Hearing loss can contribute to cognitive disorders, including dementia, and creates stress while diminishing quality of life. 

Fortunately, hearing loss doesn’t have to limit you. While most incidences of hearing loss are permanent and cannot be reversed, they can be managed effectively with treatment. Today’s hearing aids are discreet and adaptable and models are available that can help address nearly every degree of hearing loss. 

From a patient’s standpoint, treating hearing loss can open the door to better health across the board. Hearing aids help you gain a restored comprehension of speech and make following complicated and multi-person conversations much easier. Hearing aids help you retain important verbal information, such as detailed instruction from an employer or medical provider. By making your comprehension easier, hearing aid use diminishes the stress that hearing loss places on other parts of your cognitive functioning. 

In today’s world, advocating for hearing loss treatment has benefits for both providers and patients. Increasing comprehension of medical advice has the potential to reduce the number of hospital readmissions and cut health care costs.