Age-Related Hearing Loss and Communication Breakdown in the Clinical Setting



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For individuals aged 60 and older, spending time at the doctor’s office is a common occurrence. And, considering the prevalence of hearing loss in older people, it’s not too surprising hearing loss gets in the way of effective communication between the older individual and their healthcare provider during these routine encounters. A recent study, published online by JAMA-Otolaryngology on August 24th, indicates communication breakdowns that result from hearing loss in older people might be more common and debilitating than realized.


A group of researchers at University College Cork, Ireland, led by Vikki Cudmore, interviewed 100 adults between the ages of 60 and 80-plus years. Fifty-seven individuals reported hearing loss, and, as expected, the individuals over aged 80 had a much higher rate of self-reported hearing impairment.


Almost half of the group (43%) reported they misheard a physician

or nurse during a primary care or hospital visit. Interestingly, the

frequency of mishearing did not vary according to the age group.


As part of the study, respondents were asked to elaborate on the context of their miscommunications with physicians and nurses. Some patients explained why they misheard their healthcare providers, and their reasons fell into one of five categories. Descriptions of illnesses or instructions tripped up 36 percent of people, and 29 percent said they missed words or full sentences for no particular reason. People talking too fast, too many people talking at once and similar issues were cited by 27 percent of people. Pronunciation or similar-sounding words were an issue to 10 percent of people. Others reported intentionally not listening to their providers and some blamed the setting or the physician or nurse for not speaking clearly.


Hearing Loss and Patient-Physician Communication


The urgency for physicians and other healthcare professionals to shore up their ability to communicate with older individuals was reflected in an accompanying commentary to this research. Heather Weinreich of Johns Hopkins University wrote that physicians need to be improve their communication style with older patients, and intervene in other ways to help patients hear well during their interactions. One intervention cited by Weinreich was the use of temporary amplification devices.

“On a global scale, supporting legislation for hearing coverage, opening doors to alternative hearing devices and pushing for standardization of technology like personal sound amplification amplifiers are methods (of improving communication)” Weinreich writes.


There are potential immediate short-term and long-term impacts

of miscommunication with patients. We need more research into

the medical errors and costs caused by hearing loss and to examine

methods to provide effective communication so as to deliver

high-quality patient-centered care,” Weinreich concluded.


As hearing care professionals continue to grapple with changes in device regulations, the research of Cudmore and her colleagues in Ireland could be a springboard to building stronger relationships with the physician community by providing low-cost, non-custom amplification devices that can be used during physician/nurse appointments with patients in the hospital or clinic. One example of this type of interventional service can be found at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the work of audiologist, Lori Zitelli and her colleagues, while another can be found at Johns Hopkins University under the leadership of research audiologists like Nick Reed and Jon Suen.



Celebrate Safely

Summertime is fun, and celebrating the 4th of July is one of summertime's highlights. As you make preparations like buying food to barbecue with friends and family, choosing which fireworks to wow your neighbors with or perhaps which fireworks show to attend, please remember to gather hearing protection for you and the ones you love. It's such a simple thing to do, yet is often forgotten.


The best way to avoid overexposure to loud sounds is to wear earplugs or protective headphones (you can even wear both!) You can also distance yourself very far away from the explosion of fireworks, loud music or similar sounds. If you have changes in your hearing after events like these, you need to come in for a hearing test. Your hearing is so precious and it's our number one goal to protect it.

The 4th of July and fireworks can be very exciting, but it's important to realize that it can be dangerous to your hearing too. With the right precautions you, your friends and family can have a really great time without the fear of hearing loss.


March 3rd is World Hearing Day

Each year, the World Health Organization designates a day to focus on ear and hearing health. This year's campaign is called "Action For Hearing Loss: Make a Sound Investment"  It's meant to bring attention to the economic effects of hearing loss.


360 million people in the world live with disabling hearing loss, and up to 330 million people in the world suffer with chronic ear infections. Five out of every 1,000 children are born deaf or hard of hearing. The economic impact of hearing loss is felt worldwide even though the majority of those with hearing loss live in low- and middle-income parts of the world. Hearing loss affects communication which then has a large impact on education, employment and social and emotional health.



Many causes which lead to hearing loss can be prevented.  60% of all childhood hearing loss is preventable, and those who have hearing loss can reach their full potential with early detection, rehabilitation, and the use of assistive hearing devices. Education and empowerment are also key to helping those with hearing loss, and the great news is, they are cost effective!



The World Health Organization is calling for action to address hearing loss. They ask that decision makers around the world allocate resources to integrate ear and hearing care into health systems. Although most health systems in the United States offer hearing care many places in the world do not. That's why it's important to raise awareness among all sectors of society. (


Happy World Hearing Day!








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