‘There's a hell of a noise’: living with a hearing loss in residential care

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Abstract

Background: hearing loss is common in older age. Research with older people in residential care settings has identified high prevalence of hearing loss and low uptake of hearing aids. Hearing loss in these settings is associated with reduced social engagement. Although hearing aids remain the default treatment for presbyacusic hearing loss, these are not well used. We do not know what other modifiable factors contribute to communication problems for older people with hearing loss living in residential care.

Objectives: to explore the factors affecting communicating with a hearing loss in residential care.

Methods: an ethnographic study in two residential care homes comprised 19 sessions of observation, and in-depth interviews with 18 residents. Observations explored communication behaviour in everyday interactions, including mealtimes, structured groups and informal group activities. Interviews were informed by the observations and identified reasons for these behaviours and communication preferences. Observational data were recorded in field notes and interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Analysis was conducted using constant comparison methods.

Results: hearing loss affected whether residents were able to access social opportunities. Two key themes influenced this (i) contextual issues compounded communication difficulties and (ii) environmental noise restricted the residents' communication choices. Problems were observed at every mealtime and during formal and informal group activities. The use of hearing aids and access to hearing services did not improve social engagement.

Conclusions: environmental and social factors are key to maximising communication opportunities. Improvements to communication in residential care settings could be based on changes in these with input from residents and staff. Further work is needed to develop effective communication strategies in residential care.

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