Shelly Mesure, MS, OTR/L

Age-related changes are a natural part of everyone’s existence. We can all expect to get wrinkles, gray hair, and decreases in our vision and hearing, among many other delightful changes. However, dementia is not one of these age-related changes to be taken as a “given.”

It does affect a large number of our elderly population, especially those living in long-term care communities. But so does hearing loss. Before ever assuming a resident has dementia, I would highly recommend assessing his or her hearing and communication skills.

When someone has a decline (small or large) in hearing, it creates communication barriers on both sides. The person is unable to hear adequately, so he or she may become confused about what is being said or happening around them. This confusion may result in them providing an inappropriate response or lack of response when prompted.

We often times assume a person is developing dementia, or worse, when he or she offers confusing or inappropriate responses. Before making this assumption, I would recommend reviewing their medical record to find out the following:

1.   Do they have a documented hearing loss already?

2.   When was the last time they had their hearing assessed?

3.   Who assessed their hearing? Was this done at the facility, ENT office, etc.?

4.   What were the findings of this assessment?

5.   If none of these have been done, then I would recommend scheduling appointments and begin this process to establish the baseline.

Communication is such an important part of everyday life. It affects mood and behaviors, depression, social interactions, and much more.

When someone loses his or her ability to communicate effectively, that person would become more withdrawn and begin to isolate himself or herself socially. So, before we assume the root cause is due to dementia, or worse, let’s check the batteries on their hearing aides.

Shelly Mesure (“measure”), MS, OTR/L, is the senior vice president of Orchestrall Rehab Solutions and owner of A Mesured Solution Inc., a rehabilitation management consultancy with clients nationwide. A former corporate and program director for major long-term care providers, she is a veteran speaker and writer on therapy and reimbursement issues.