Deafness can lead to a dementia diagnosis

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • The case of staff in a hospital treating a deaf man as if he had dementia because no one had written down that he had hearing difficulties was recently highlighted in the UK. In a report on his care it was found that the man had not been told he was being investigated for possible cancer. He had been fitted with a catheter even though he was not incontinent. The man's wife complained that her husband's care was compromised.


    The man had first been admitted to hospital with a possible chest infection and then readmitted the following month, when he died. His widow complained that her husband's care was compromised because staff did not consider his deafness, even though she told them about it. She said her husband was given a catheter - something she thought he would considered "humiliating". She felt it was for the convenience of staff. Her husband had fallen while trying to walk to the toilet because he did not like the catheter and there were no rails around his bed to prevent such a fall.

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    We at HealthCentral have been told of, and have highlighted, poor care where hearing problems were not identified and care staff failed to use hearing aids. Poor hearing can cause or contribute to difficulties with mobility, diet and increased confusion. For people with dementia such as Alzheimer’s and hearing loss we find it easier to communicate on a one-to-one basis.


    People, especially older people, need to have regular medical checks. It is important to pick up any sign of hearing loss or diseases that may affect the ear quickly. A medical history of ear diseases or conditions may mean the patient needs to be examined on a more regular basis. 


    Checklist to Avoid Hearing Impairments Adversly Affecting Dementia Patients:

    • Regular checks on hearing
    • Reassessment of any hearing difficulties
    • Any sign of infection must be treated quickly. People with more severe Alzheimer’s may indicate they have pain in their ears by rubbing the area. The area may be red or swollen, have a discharge. The patient may cry out if their ear is touched. Behavior can also suddenly change because of discomfort.
    • As this case highlighted communication between caregivers and relatives is vital. Good nursing care notes and up-to-date medical notes helps prevent poor care.
    • A hearing aid can improve hearing and make communication easier. Caregivers should encourage hearing aid use and they need to make sure the device is on, fits well and is comfortable for the patient..

    Use these simple tips to Improve your communication for people with dementia

    • Face the person you are talking to.
    • Good lighting allows the patient with dementia to see your face and it helps improve their concentration.
    • Speak clearly, concisely and in a friendly way.
    • If you know that hearing loss is worse in one ear make sure seating arrangements allow for this.
    • A large chalkboard with short simple reminders of day of the week, activities, meal times etc is helpful to orientate the person. Caregivers can point to the current activity.
    • Reduce peripheral noise and distractions when you are speaking to the person with hearing loss.
    • Continue to include the person with dementia in conversations and make an effort. For the patient, feeling you have some control over your environment is very important for maintaining skills, interest and for self-esteem.
Published On: December 21, 2013