Hearing Equity through Accessible Research Solutions (HEARS)| MEKTU | NB-IRDT | UNB

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Hearing Equity through Accessible Research Solutions (HEARS)

Lead organization: Loch Lomond Villa / Baycrest

Principle Investigator: Marilyn Reed, Baycrest

Co-investigator: Dr. Carrie Neiman, Johns Hopkins University

Co-investigator: Cindy Donovan, Loch Lomond Villa

Co-investigator: Kate Ellis, Loch Lomond Villa

Co-investigator: Mary Smirle, The Hearing Foundation of Canada

About the project:

The issue

Unmanaged hearing loss is very common among older adults. Although it is known to be associated with declines in cognitive, physical, and mental health, hearing loss in older adults goes largely untreated, at great cost to their health and quality of life. Despite strong evidence of the benefits of improved hearing through the use of hearing aids and training in good communication strategies, many seniors do not seek or are unable to access hearing help. This can be due to a variety of reasons including stigma, cost, and difficulty accessing services.

Screening for hearing loss is rarely performed in adults and physicians do not routinely refer older adults for hearing tests. Even if people are aware of their hearing loss, access to treatment through traditional models of hearing health care can be challenging for seniors. User adoption rates for hearing aids are very low, with only 14% of adults over the age of 50 years with clinically significant hearing loss use hearing aids, and even fewer among low income and racial and ethnic minorities.

The importance

Untreated hearing loss has become a global concern because of its effects on communication and health. Along with its association with many age-related health problems, hearing loss has recently been identified as a leading risk factor for dementia, and addressing it could prevent up to 9% of new cases. Hearing loss makes communication and participation in activities of daily living challenging, increasing the risk of social isolation, depression, and reducing overall well-being and quality of life. With the rapidly increasing number of seniors in Canada, it is crucial to provide cost-effective and practical solutions to this public health challenge.

What makes this project different

The HEARS project provides a new community-based program of care designed to directly tackle issues related to access, cost, and stigma. Seniors found to have hearing loss through screening are offered a non-prescription amplification device along with education related to hearing health and use of good communication strategies, at no cost by participating in this study. Those requiring further investigation or treatment beyond the scope of that offered by this project are referred for the care they need.

Anticipated impacts

Individual-level impacts:

  • Improved communication and hearing-related quality of life; Overall brain health and healthy aging; Increased social interaction and participation, performing everyday activities, and aging safely at home

Community-level impacts:

  • Address stigma and barriers to accessing hearing health supports; Identification and management of hearing loss in many seniors who would not have sought help or been able to access hearing healthcare as it is traditionally provided.

Systemic-level impacts:

  • Raise awareness and advocate for improved systems such as hearing screening programs for older adults to effectively identify those with hearing loss and hearing care programs that help them to address it.

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