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Caregivers serving elderly need training on impact of hearing loss

Loss of hearing can be an isolating experience and lead to depression, increased incidences of dementia, hospitalizations, and falls, Rep. Debra Kiel (R-Crookston) told the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee Wednesday.

HF952, sponsored by Kiel, would require staff at assisted living facilities to undergo training about age-related hearing loss to help them interact more effectively with hard-of-hearing people in their care to improve the quality of their lives.

Topics covered would include the signs of hearing loss, its prevalence, the potential health impacts, and communication strategies — including the use of technology.

It was approved as amended and referred to the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. Its companion, SF818, sponsored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point), awaits action by the Senate Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee.

Direct care workers and their supervisors would need to complete two hours of initial training and one hour of additional training each year while other staff members would need one hour of initial training and 30 minutes of additional training each year. While not mandatory, it would count toward annual training requirements for direct home care service providers.

It’s important for training to be conducted throughout the facility with everyone likely to interact with residents – including maintenance workers and food service staff – as effective communication strategies can make a big difference regardless of context, Kiel said.

Many changes are simple, like minimizing background noise or making sure a hard-of-hearing person is facing you when trying to get their attention, said Dr. Kathleen Marin, a psychologist with hearing loss who serves as vice president of the Hearing Loss Association of America’s Twin Cities chapter.

Facilities could also help their residents by making announcements visually, instead of just over an intercom, she said.

“Without (accommodations), the residents often miss out on a lot of things, like, for instance, what are their meal choices for the day? What are the activities? ... What are their treatment plans? They need to know this kind of stuff,” Marin said. “They also miss out on a whole other level. Friendship, laughter, fun.”

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