Hearing Loss, Dementia and Healthy Aging: Audiologist as Gatekeeper?
By Carolyn Ginsburg Stern
Manager, Center for Hearing and Aging, Center for Hearing and Communication
Two out of three people over the age of 75 have hearing loss and one in ten over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. Research shows that untreated hearing loss in the elderly is associated with increased cognitive decline. Professionals working with this age group are often faced with questions on how best to manage the specific needs of their patients who are experiencing both hearing loss and dementia. To address this, the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) and CaringKind partnered in presenting a unique conference on May 11: “Hearing Loss, Dementia and Healthy Aging: Audiologist as Gatekeeper?”
There was an audience of 100 audiologists and related professionals, all eager to deepen their understanding of how Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias impact current and future older adult clients with hearing loss. CaringKind’s CEO, Lou-Ellen Barkan, emphasized the importance of this conference stating, “We know in the absence of an effective pharmaceutical therapy for the disease, the best therapy is good care which includes consideration of our clients’ physical well-being, which as we know more and more includes hearing loss.” CHC’s Executive Director, Laurie Hanin, added, “It is vitally important that health care providers understand the need to address hearing loss as we get older. Untreated hearing loss in the elderly is linked to a greater risk of falls, social isolation and dementia. Audiologists need to know more about the ever increasing dementia epidemic they may already experience with clients in their practices.”
Experts in their respective fields provided a wealth of new knowledge and practical information throughout the day-long conference. Presenters included Dr. Joshua Chodosh, geriatrician and professor at NYU School of Medicine; Anne Foerg, Director of Social Work Services at CaringKind; Dr. Kathy Pichora-Fuller, a researcher trained audiologist and professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto; Dr. Barbara Weinstein, a leading researcher and expert on audiology and aging at the Graduate Center, CUNY; Amy Torres, Director of Training at CaringKind and Dr. Ellen Lafargue, audiologist and Co-Director of the Shelley and Steven Einhorn Audiology and Communication Centers at CHC. Jed Levine, Executive VP at CaringKind served as moderator. Special thanks to Brooklyn College for sponsoring continuing education credits from ASHA and corporate sponsors, Oticon, Signia, Caption Call and CapTel.
Key takeaways from the conference include:
Hearing loss can create communication strain for the person with dementia, the elderly spouse or caregiver, or both.
Studies show that improving the quality of sound though amplification such as hearing aids could put less strain on the brain and free up energy needed to improve functioning.
Enhancing communication through amplification can improve mood and increase social interactions, thereby reducing loneliness and isolation.
Addressing hearing loss can help one stay connected, engaged and aware of the surroundings, key for someone with a diagnosis of dementia.
Tools are available to enable audiologists to bring up observations regarding their client’s cognitive functioning.
The conference provided an unprecedented opportunity to acknowledge that audiologists can serve as gatekeepers for dementia. As Dr. Weinstein said, “One of the many reasons why audiologists could serve as a gatekeeper is that they have long term relationships with their patients, and can note when there is a change in their communication behaviors.” And, as Jed Levine emphasized, “if we could help connect individuals with dementia to diagnostic resources, and care and support programs early in the process, they could be a part of the conversation.” As gatekeepers, that’s an important role we can play.
Carolyn Ginsburg Stern is passionate about helping older adults and those with dementia get the hearing health needed to lead productive and connected lives. For any questions or comments, please contact Carolyn at 917-305-7812 or