Most healthcare providers, including speech-language pathologists, are acutely aware of the aging demographics in the United States today. As the ranks of the aging population continue to swell, professionals working in skilled nursing, assisted living, and residential rehabilitation facilities face a variety of challenges working with geriatric patients. As cited in USA Today, about 1.8 million adults (7.4% of Americans aged 75 and older) lived in skilled nursing facilities in 2006 (El Nasser, 2007). This figure does not include those living in assisted living or residential rehab facilities. According to the Better Hearing Institute (BHI; 2005), 29% of adults over age 65 suffer from hearing loss. Nearly everyone aged 80 years and older has some degree of hearing loss (The Swedish Council on Technology Assessment in Health Care, 2003).
Those whose practice emphasizes the provision of services in skilled nursing facilities, home health, or other venues that are predominately serving a geriatric caseload face a number of concerns, not the least of which is effectively managing patients who suffer from hearing loss. The 2004 MarkeTrak survey (as cited in Kochkin, 2005) estimated that 31.5 million people report a hearing difficulty; that number constitutes almost 10% of the U.S. population. As noted above, percentages of incidence of hearing impairment for those persons 65 years of age and older are much greater. However, as reported by the National Institute for Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD; 2007), only 1 in 5 patients identified as having hearing loss actually wear hearing aids.
Failure to identify and successfully address loss in hearing sensitivity has the potential to significantly deter progress in rehabilitative efforts by compromising comprehension of important directives. Such limitations are not congruent with third party payer objectives nor are they helpful to families struggling to assist their loved ones.
According to the National Council on Aging (1999); Chia et al. (2007); and Kochkin and Rogin (2000), recent statistics regarding the benefits of using hearing aids include some of the following:
- The use of hearing aids is associated with improved perceptions of the hard-of-hearing's mental ability.
- People who use hearing aids report better health than hard-of-hearing people who do not use hearing aids.
- 9 out of 10 hearing aid users report improvements in their quality of life.
Additionally, a major study by the National Council on Aging (1999) found that adults with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia, and were less likely to participate in organized social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids (study supported by Campbell, Crews, Moriarty, Zack, & Blackman, 1999; Keller, Morton, Thomas, & Potter, 1999; Kramer, Kapteyn, Kuik, & Deeg, 2002). Given the research, such as that of Keller, Morton, Thomas, and Potter, which indicates the importance of addressing deficits in hearing to quality of life, why are so many geriatric patients' hearing healthcare needs ineffectually met?