QMYOU Alumni Magazine Issue 84 - Page 13

when trying to communicate their needs to staff and integrate with residents. Research suggests that the problem in residential care is actually much greater with well over 70% of people experiencing problems with hearing. It is also known that around 6.7 million people in the UK could benefit from hearing aids. Unidentified and untreated hearing loss in adults is a risk factor for increased distress, depression, loneliness, paranoia, cognitive decline and dementia. QMU’s research project will establish how many people living in care homes are experiencing hearing loss, as well as identify whether there are more effective ways of assessing older people’s hearing, particularly those with challenging behaviours. The research is funded by the Abbeyfield Research Foundation, which funds healthcare research into the over 55 age group and has an associated company involved in residential care home provision. Dr Joanna White, audiologist at QMU, is leading the project. She explained: “It is generally accepted that when people age, they will experience hearing loss – either a reduction in their hearing, or significant hearing loss which can have a major impact on their quality of their life and social interactions. Older people with hearing loss experience frustration and isolation which can lead to depression, social exclusion and general lack of wellbeing. There is also a known link between untreated hearing loss in adults and risk of dementia. “Unfortunately, there is a general acceptance that we will become deaf or experience hearing loss as we age, and often no action is taken to address this.” Dr White continued: “Worryingly, if individuals have not received a hearing assessment or treatment before entering residential care, they are unlikely to get any assistance with their hearing loss during their time in residential care – the problem is essentially ignored.” The research project will also look at the issue of training for care home staff to better support residents who are experiencing hearing deterioration. This would include the referral process for specialist hearing support, managing hearing aids, effective communication with residents, facilitating communication between residents and families, and support with using specialist hearing equipment. An experienced audiologist, Amy Meikle, has begun her PhD at Queen Margaret University, funded by the Abbeyfield Research Foundation. She explained: “There can be a very high level of noise within the care home environment and many older people will find it difficult to process auditory information even if they have no measurable hearing loss. This can add to their anxiety levels “It can also be very difficult to help older people in care homes who have challenging behaviour. The stress of trying to take people out of care homes into a clinical facility for a hearing test is a major barrier. We are therefore looking at how we can make things easier for older people and care workers so that more residents benefit from the correct audiology support. So, for example, the study will look at the use of portable testing equipment which can be brought to the care homes, making it easier to provide hearing tests on site.” Dr White concluded: “The scale of the problem is massive in care homes across the UK. In addition, you have the challenges of limited NHS budgets and high turnover of care home staff. However, currently we have an unacceptable situation in that despite so many residents experiencing hearing loss whilst in residential homes, very little is done to tackle the problem. We therefore aim to produce guidelines and quality standards that will help staff better care for residents in their care who experience hearing loss. This will ultimately impact on the quality of life of residents as well as improving communication between care staff and families with residents.” Professor Fiona Coutts, Dean of Health Sciences at QMU, said: “Since its inception in 1875 QMU’s work has focused on tackling some of the most pressing issues affecting our society. This project is an excellent example of the relevance of QMU’s work in dealing with some of the health issues affecting our inc reasingly ageing population. We are proud that our research can be applied to real life situations to help improve and influence the quality of life of people across the UK.” ❒ QMYOU / Health & Rehabilitation 13