Dr. Ruth Warick is the President of the International Federation of Hard of Hearing Persons, and a founding member of its national association in Canada of which she is a former president. Locally she serves as president of its provincial chapter. She is First Vice-President of the International Disability Alliance, representing persons with all disabilities international projects and policy initiatives. In 2003 she completed her doctoral thesis titled Voices Unheard: The Academic and Social Experiences of Students who are Hard of Hearing. In 2020 she co-edited a publication on Inclusive Education: Realities Facing Hard of Hearing Learners in Nepal and Uganda. For over 25 years, Ruth was employed at the University of British Columbia where she promoted and facilitated accessibility and accommodations for students, staff, and faculty of all types of disabilities. She also presented workshops and developed materials related to universal design, equity and inclusion and intersectionality within disability.
Age-friendly and hearing accessible communities for older adults
Dutch born audiologist Dr. Juliette Sterkens has 4 decades of experience in the field of audiology and hearing rehabilitation. Retired from private practice, she is on her encore career as a consumer and hearing loop advocate for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). She has lectured extensively to consumers, hearing care professionals, and aging care professionals and authored articles in audiology, consumer, and hearing aid publications. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Wisconsin Audiologist of the Year and the American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award. She is a member of the International Hearing Access Committee, HLAA’s Get in the Hearing Loop Committee, a board member of the Wisconsin State Chapter of HLAA and serves as an advisor to HEAR in Fox Cities, a non-profit organization that provides hearing aids to youth and children in NE Wisconsin.
Dr. Walter Wittich is an Associate Professor at the School of Optometry at the University of Montreal, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His research focuses on the rehabilitation of older adults with combined vision and hearing loss. Following his Master’s in Psychology (Concordia University) and a PhD in Visual Neuroscience (McGill University), he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in audiology at the University of Montreal. Coming from a background in age-related vision loss, he now conducts research in dual sensory impairment and acquired deaf-blindness. His research domains include basic sensory science, as well as medical, psychosocial, and rehabilitation approaches to sensory loss, where he has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles. Walter is the inaugural chair of the Deafblind International Research Network and chair of the Visual Impairment and Rehabilitation axis of the Quebec Vision Health Research Network, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and is Quebec’s first Certified Low Vision Therapist.
Dr. Kathy Pichora-Fuller is Professor Emerita in Psychology at University of Toronto and Adjunct Professor in Gerontology at Simon Fraser University, Canada. She was a guest professor in the Linneaus Centre for Hearing and Deafness Research at Linköping University in Sweden (2010-2014). She translates her experimental research on auditory and cognitive aging to address the rehabilitative and communication accessibility needs of older adults with age-related hearing and cognitive impairments, including a new focus on social engagement and healthy aging. She has won numerous awards including the International Research Award from the American Academy of Audiology and Eve Kassirer Lifetime Achievement Award from Speech-Language and Audiology Canada. Currently, she is President of the International Collegium of Rehabilitative Audiology, the audiology expert for the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging and the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, and is working with the International Federation on Ageing on a new initiative on “Hearing in Later Life”.
Ruth Warick, International Federation of Hard of Hearing People, Germany
Juliette Sterkens, Hearing Loss Association of America, United States
Walter Wittich, University of Montreal, Canada
Kathleen Pichora-Fuller, University of Toronto, Canada
Hearing loss is one of the largest categories of disability affecting over 466 million persons worldwide and almost a third of people over 65 experience debilitating hearing loss. The WHO Integrated Care for Older People guidelines notes that declines in sensory capacities, alone or in combination with other health issues may compromise functioning and undermine aging well. Furthermore, barriers to action such as stigmatizing attitudes to ageing and hearing loss create further challenges to the well-being of older adults with hearing loss and their relationships with family, friends and others with whom they communicate and interact in everyday life.
This symposium will take a multi-faceted approach to discussing the challenges faced by older adults with hearing loss and other sensory challenges. Challenges faced by older adults living with hearing loss will be articulated from those with lived experienced, along with ways of addressing these challenges. The blueprint for hearing access and healthcare in the WHO World Report on Hearing, released March 3, 2021, will be shared during the session.
An overview will be provided of hearing technologies from over-the-counter and amplification wearable devices, to hearing aids and cochlear implants. It will also be illustrated how these listening devices can be complemented by technologies (e.g., loops) used in public places to provide hearing and communication accessibility in the community. Issues in the use of these technologies may be addressed to make communities more age-friendly by optimizing and promoting communication accessibility. Ways to bring together stakeholders to develop technologies and services for health aging and to provide innovations for aging populations everywhere will be shared.
The session will include a discussion about Universal Design (UD) as a process of making spaces and things usable by anyone under all conditions. It will be acknowledged that UD principles challenge us to create age-friendly communities that welcome, and are accessible to, all persons, independent of their impairments, age or functional abilities. The discussion will consider how accessibility features for individuals living with combined vision and hearing loss influence the experience of accessible environments and inclusive communication with and for older adults. Concrete examples will be provided.
Sensory rehabilitation in clinical settings benefits individuals; however, much work is needed to make communities age-friendly for older people living with hearing loss. The imperative is for age-friendly initiatives and technology to attend to the real-world sensory needs of older adults to promote aging well.
Presenter #1, Ruth Warick
Addressing Hearing Loss and Stigma for Healthy Aging
Hearing loss affects over 466 million persons worldwide, yet is often invisible and kept hidden due to a lack of awareness and compounding effects of stigmatizing attitudes to hearing loss and aging. The consequences of unaddressed hearing loss can be dire, as hearing affects communication which impacts on a person’s ability to participate in all forms of social and societal endeavors. Older adults may also have additional conditions, magnifying the impact of a hearing loss. Yet, there is much that can be done to provide communication accessibility for older adults, starting with identification of hearing loss and fostering an immediate connection of the individual to services and supports. The perspective of a person living with hearing loss and involved with the advocacy movement of hard of hearing people in her own country and globally through the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People will be shared. This session will include a discussion of actions that can be taken for improving the quality of life for those with hearing loss. A framework for addressing hearing loss challenges, as outlined in the World Health Organization’s World Report on Hearing which was released on March 3, 2021, will be discussed in this session.
Presenter #2, Walter Wittich
Facilitating the participation of older adults in community activities: The role of combined vision and hearing impairment
Being able to communicate is a cornerstone of healthy aging. People need to understand others to remain cognitively and socially engaged with families, friends, and others. According to the World Health Organization, almost a third of people over 65 experience debilitating hearing loss. This means that for most people, it is not a matter of if, but when they will face hearing loss. This presentation will address the negative impact of hearing loss on healthy aging in older adults, give an overview of current hearing technologies from over-the-counter and amplification wearable devices, to hearing aids and cochlear implants. As well, the presenter will discuss hearing loops and how they provide additional hearing access, along with assistive listening devices. Challenges in the use of these technologies will be identified along with how challenges may be addressed. The session will close with a discussion about how communities can be more hearing friendly by optimizing and promoting hearing access.
Presenter #3, Kathleen Pichora-Fuller
Importance of communication accessibility for age-ready cities, age-friendly communities, and technology for aging well
While communication and social participation intuitively depend on the ability to hear a communication partner, it is often underestimated what the contribution of vision is to the communication process. As the number of individuals with age-related visual impairments increases, more data emerge on the difficulties that are linked to the potentially multiplicative effects of comorbidities. This aspect becomes particularly relevant when hearing is sufficiently impaired that it cannot be used to compensate for the vision impairment, and vice versa. Assistive devices designed to improve communication and social participation (e.g., hearing aids or mobility devices) often require the device user to interact with visual controls designed for persons with normal vision. The concept of Universal Design describes the process of making spaces and things usable by anyone under all conditions. Its principles, however, challenge us to create age-friendly communities that welcome, and are accessible to, all persons, independent of their impairments, age or functional abilities. This presentation will highlight how accessibility features for individuals living with combined vision and hearing loss influence the experience of accessible environments and inclusive communication with and for older adults. Examples will include visibility (contrast, lighting, magnification), audibility (amplitude) , as well as tactile interfaces.
Presenter #4, Juliette Sterkens
The role of technology in addressing the negative impacts of hearing loss on healthy aging
The prevalence of hearing and vision loss increases markedly with age. By 75 years of age, the majority of older adults live with sensory loss. Furthermore, sensory losses can co-occur and increase risk for psychological (e.g., depression, dementia) and physical (e.g., falls) health issues. In the terms of the WHO Integrated Care for Older People guidelines, declines in sensory capacities, alone or in combination with other health issues may compromise functioning and undermine aging well. Rehabilitation for sensory problems can improve functioning in everyday life. Nevertheless, rehabilitation has been largely limited to services delivered to individuals in clinical settings, where it is difficult to fully appreciate how to best meet the needs of older adults as they interact in the social and physical environments in which they communicate as they participate in everyday activities. Conversely, age-friendly initiatives and technology design for aging well often overlook the sensory needs of older adults that must be addressed in the real-world to optimize functioning. This paper will stress the person-environment interface and illustrate the importance of better integration of communication accessibility in age-ready cities, age-friendly communities and technology design to promote aging well.