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Upstate, SU study assesses hearing needs of older patients

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Hospitalized patients aged 60 and older can use assistive listening devices (ALD) to improve their hearing, resulting in better communication with their doctor and other hospital staff and better protection of their right to privacy, according to a study conducted by researchers at Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University.

These findings may encourage hospitals to to further address the hearing needs of older hospitalized patients by making assistive listening devices available to patients.

The study, "Improving Communication for Older Hospital Patients with Assistive Listening Devices," was funded by the Capita Foundation, which supports research aimed the prevention and cure of hearing disorders. Lead investigators of the study were Sharon Brangman, M.D., professor and chief of geriatrics at Upstate, who also serves as president of the American Geriatrics Society and Karen Doherty, Ph.D., professor of audiology and associate chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) at Syracuse University. The study's findings were presented at the annual convention of the American Academy of Audiology in April in Chicago.

The American Academy of Audiology says that after age 60, one in every three adults has some degree of hearing loss and approximately one in every two adults over age 75 years has significant hearing loss. For much of this population, the consequences of hearing loss could be significant, especially in a hospital environment.

"Patients who wear assistive listening devices typically leave them home, because these devices are expensive and can be lost in the hospital," said Brangman. "If doctors and other healthcare workers perceive patients cannot hear them, they will raise their voices when speaking. This may not improve communication and may compromise the patient's privacy."

Older, hearing-impaired patients also may be unable to serve effectively as their own patient advocate.

"The inability to hear clearly could affect a patient's control of his or her healthcare decisions," said Doherty. "Physicians who believe that their patient cannot understand what they are saying may explain important medical information to the next of kin rather than to the patient who needs to accurately hear what their physician is recommending, as well as the risks and benefits associated with each option."

To conduct the study, 48 hospitalized patients between the ages of 60 and 98 years with moderate hearing loss were given a hearing test at their bedside. Eight of the patients wore hearing aids but did not bring them to the hospital. Six patients had owned hearing aids previously but lost them or currently were not wearing them.

Study participants were trained to use a hearing device that resembled a Walkman. The device included a microphone to pick-up the sound, an amplifier to amplify the sound and a receiver connected to a headset. Patients used the ALD every day while in the hospital. A short questionnaire was administered to the patients each day to determine his or her pattern of ALD use and perceived benefit.

Ninety-seven percent of the patients found the ALD to be helpful and easy to use. Most study participants used the ALD to communicate with the hospital staff and their family.

Researchers says the findings provide data on the use and benefit of using ALDs with older normal hearing loss and hearing-impaired hospital patients. The data may support the creation of hospital policies that would require ALDs be made available to older hospital patients, they said.

Also serving as investigators of the study were Toni Pacioles, M.D., Michael Tabland, M.D., and Katherine Mark, M.D., of Upstate Medical University and Elizabeth Fasulo, and Caithlin MacNeil of Syracuse University.