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Recognising the vital role of hearing for ageing well

Nurse and client at client's home

Hearing plays a vital role in helping people maintain independence.

The Bolton Clarke Research Institute (BCRI) is finding new ways to improve quality of life and help people age well by addressing hearing issues.

In a new initiative, Bolton Clarke has partnered with The University of Queensland to co-design, pilot, and evaluate a hearing and vision support intervention for older adults who are receiving home care services.

“Hearing and vision play a vital role in independence and overall well-being,” BCRI co-investigators Professor Judy Lowthian and Dr Carly Meyer said. “This intervention aims to improve the overall well-being and quality of life of homecare recipients and family caregivers.”

The intervention is designed to be delivered over 12 weeks and will include multiple components, such as hearing and vision assessment, the prescription of hearing and vision devices, training, referral to health and social services, and simple home modifications.

It will be piloted and evaluated in 2024-2025 with about 87 home care recipients and their family caregivers.

A second Institute project already achieving results is focused on removing undetected hearing loss as a barrier in assessing cognitive ability.

The project is investigating the potential of personal amplification devices – which use digital technology to enhance speech, as a low-cost alternative to hearing aids - in the assessment process.

Bolton Clarke Clinical Nurse Consultant Kylie Walters said hearing difficulties can often mimic dementia or depression, as reduced hearing greatly reduces a client's ability to communicate. As a result, the accuracy and understanding of key assessments such as the Rowland Universal Dementia Assessment Scale (RUDAS) and Psychogeriatric Assessment Scales (PAS) can be severely hampered, leading to potentially negative outcomes for clients.

“It’s been a simple and positive experience for both clinicians and clients,” Kylie said. “So far, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. During the assessments, both concentration and understanding of questions is improved, with less repetition or stalling for answers.”

After a successful pilot with fourteen clients, the devices will now become an everyday part of the clinician’s toolbox to support and enhance communication and better target care for nurses across Melbourne.

March 3 is World Hearing Day, with World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying: “Hearing loss has often been referred to as an “invisible disability”, not just because of the lack of visible symptoms, but because it has long been stigmatised in communities and ignored by policymakers.”

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