Summer's here — can you hear me now?

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

Memorial Day heralds the start of summer — and with it risks for both you and your residents.

Apart from the dangers of burns, bugs and dehydration, Ball State University audiologists warned this week how summer noise can damage hearing.

Your residents may not be at risk for hearing a rock concert or being close to fireworks, but a lawn mower or other construction equipment outside their room could incur damage to their hearing, experts said. Noise created by landscaping equipment and traffic can range between 90 and 140 decibels, warned audiology professor Blair Mattern. Sounds above 80 decibels have the potential to cause damage.

“Our hearing is one of our senses that we oftentimes take for granted,” Mattern notes. “Excessively loud noise, music or other sound exposure will damage our hearing. We need to take responsibility and protect it.”

In long-term care, there's evidence that residents, specifically those with dementia, are having hearing loss misclassified. One study looked at hearing loss in relationship to cognitive-communication performance of those with dementia. What it found was a correlation between participant's average pure-tone thresholds and RAI-MDS ratings of hearing, but that misclassification occurred for 44%.

Part of the reason all of this resonated with me is because for years I told my mother she needed to get her hearing tested. Now she recognizes the problem. In addition to age, she is a cancer survivor, and she feels her hearing became worse after chemotherapy. There's some evidence for this, as the commonly used chemotherapy drug Cisplatin has hearing loss as a side effect.

However, “The thing that did me in is when I ruptured my eardrum,” she says.

The setting? Christmas Eve. Did I believe my mother was seriously ill due to what we thought was a cold? I did not!

So off she went to an urgent care clinic where, in hindsight, someone probably should have gone with her to hear instructions. This was because she not only had ruptured her eardrum but because the physician, who had a foreign accent, also had a mask over her mouth.

The fact my mother couldn't understand the doctor made her realize how often she was reading people's lips.  She also says she has more difficulty hearing men than women.

“Your poor father, I can't ever hear him,” she says, and it's true some of their conversations yelled across their house sound like the AARP version of “Who's On First?” With thunder, she says, “I can never hear it, but Daisy (the dog) is quivering and your father can hear it.”

Other signs to be aware of related to hearing loss and exposure to hazardous noise includes speech sounding muffled, ringing in the ears after exposure or not understanding someone talking. The inability to notice hearing loss can take years, the Ball State professors say.

As for my mom, her eardrum has healed, and there remains room for debate as to how often she legitimately can't hear her family members, versus simply not listening to them. (Hi, Mom! I love you very much!)

But one thing's for sure: Hearing aids are in her future.

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.









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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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