Dementia Action Week is coming, 15-21 May 2023! A fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of this condition and how we can support you.
At Hearing and Tinnitus Care, dementia training is highly regarded and considered essential. Next month I’m attending a specific audiology/dementia conference in Wolverhampton to brush up on my knowledge, in addition to clinical training and Dementia Friend training.
Dementia is a diagnosis that brings a lot of pain and fear, and I have seen the run up to that diagnosis many times now. I’ve been in the privileged position of supporting people in their homes, working with them (sometimes alone, sometimes with their carers and families) to correct hearing loss and ensure their hearing is comfortable as well as just ‘louder’.
What dementia doesn’t mean, is that it’s the end. People with dementia are undoubtedly going through a lot, but they are people and should be treated as individuals. Although I take precautions, such as encouraging family involvement with purchases, sharing information directly with GP’s, training carers to manage hearing aids and hearing loss etc, the patient is always the person in front of me, not the son/daughter or the care worker.
There is no excuse for talking to the carer as if my patient is not there. There is no excuse for not asking permission from my patient before sharing information with family or healthcare workers. It is not my place to diagnose dementia and decide not to inform them about t their health, but it is my job to adapt my style and my work to the needs of my patient.
There’s a rule of thumb in audiology that people with dementia or general memory issues should only be given low-tech hearing aids to avoid ‘confusing’ them. It is indeed the case that too many hearing aid ‘channels’ (such as those found on advanced aids) may make hearing more difficult. However, there’s a large number of patients who don’t fit that rule; they can and do benefit from advanced technology, which keeps them comfortable in noisy situations and helps them to filter out background noise and concentrate on speech.
To find out whether someone will benefit, you need to take the history and sometimes be prepared to try high tech, swapping for lower tech if it doesn’t succeed. This takes extra time, and time is indeed money, but taking a shortcut commits many people to low tech solutions and miserable listening conditions for years, when they could have had greater happiness, ease and greater connection to their carers and loved ones.
There are too many people who won’t attend a social event because they are too noisy and sharp. Not because they don’t want to engage, but because it’s not comfortable for them, or they can’t hear properly.
Hearing loss that can’t be properly aided (when a patient repeatedly removes their aids or cannot tolerate full amplification) can be overcome by training care staff to communicate more effectively. In any event, training on communication skills with someone who wears aids enhances a patient’s life and makes it easier to keep connected.
Hearing aids that are poorly maintained won’t function well. Training care staff to maintain them improves my patient’s experience. I have done this at several care homes and I’ll do it every time it’s needed.
When you have the beginnings of dementia, hearing loss and dementia combine to make communication difficult. Fixing the hearing loss can make such a difference! Family who were writing a person off as confused can be shocked to find that the hearing loss was accounting for a large proportion of the ‘confusion’ they were seeing.
It is uncomfortable for me to see people talking to patients in a stereotypical way as if they were learning disabled - either shouting or talking super-slow. The mouth movements are distorted when you do either of these things, and a person’s natural lip reading ability is hamstrung by these poor communication methods. People with cognitive impairment/working memory deficits benefit from short sentences, direct phrases and clear speech. You may need to raise your voice, but clarity is essential, so shouting can be counterproductive. Shouting also makes you look angry, which can scare or distress people with dementia.
If you or a loved one has dementia or any type of cognitive impairment, feel free to contact me for advice. Read through my blog, request a copy of my communication skills paper, download a copy of my care home tips. It’s all free, and I’m happy to help in my community regardless of whether there’s a purchase.
Sometimes we will find that a person needs a private hearing assessment but would be fine (or even better off) with NHS aids. My charge for assessment is £75 currently, which includes a copy of the test results so the patient doesn’t have to be tested again. If the assessment does not lead to a purchase of hearing aids it does not matter as I have been paid for the service. A free hearing test sounds great but sometimes it is better to pay so everyone is on solid ground. If you are concerned about your hearing, and struggling with memory and managing your NHS appointments, I’m happy to assess you and advise you.
I have a returns policy to provide security against the risk of paying for aids only for them not to be tolerated. You will have modest service charges deducted if you return the aids, it’s not possible to offer free returns as high street chains do. However, I make it as easy as possible for people to investigate their hearing loss and possible solutions, without large financial risks.
If you need a demonstration of hearing aids in the familiar and secure environment of your home, we can do that. There is a charge for my services but you need not worry about a hard sell of hearing aids or being given too much confusing information. The hearing assessment itself can be tiring but I can do multiple appointments; I can charge hourly to break up testing, talking, and demonstrating.
If you are not the patient, but have concerns about the hearing of someone with dementia, message me in confidence and find out how I can help.
When I say hearing care the way it should be, it’s more than a marketing strapline, it’s everything I do. You’ll be treated exactly as anyone would wish to be treated. Fairly, impartially and with informed consent and individual support. Hearing loss and dementia are hurdles but they can be made smaller.
Please note that hearing tests and hearing aids are free of charge through the NHS. You can access these services via your GP.