Shreya Budhiraja is a Research Assistant at the Wittich Vision Impairment Research Laboratory, École d’optométrie, Université de Montréal. In her current job role, she is involved in multiple research projects in the field of dual sensory impairment. Her core research work focuses on highlighting the challenges faced by older adults with combined vision and hearing loss and their caregivers. She completed her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Ottawa in Health Sciences. Her honour’s thesis focused on social support for community-dwelling older adults during COVID-19.
Challenges in accessing healthcare during COVID-19 for older adults with dual sensory impairment in Canada: Perspectives of communication support specialists
Shreya Budhiraja, Université de Montréal, Canada
Atul Jaiswal, Institut Nazareth et Louis-Braille du CISSS de la Montérégie-Centre, Canada
Norman Robert Boie, Université de Montréal, Canada
Marie Savundranayagam, Western University, Canada
Claude Vincent and Edeltraut Kröger, Université Laval, Canada
Walter Wittich, Centre de réadaptation Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay du CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, Canada
Up to one million older Canadians are living with combined vision and hearing impairment (dual sensory impairment/DSI). Older adults with DSI frequently encounter many challenges in accessing health care services and related public health information due to restricted access to information and services. COVID-19 pandemic likely has aggravated these challenges. Communication support specialists (such as intervenors) helping older adults with DSI in accessing healthcare often experience challenges in meeting the needs of their older clientele. An intervenor facilitates the interaction of the person with DSI with other people and the environment. This qualitative study aimed to describe the challenges to accessing health care services and health related information for older adults with DSI during COVID-19 from the perspective of communication support specialists.
Using a descriptive qualitative study approach, we conducted three focus group discussions with a total of 26 communication support specialists of older adults with DSI in Ontario. Discussions were audio-recorded using Zoom and transcribed verbatim. Data were analyzed using a thematic analysis approach.
Results Communication support specialist identified three major challenges with respect to health care services and health related information for older adults with DSI, including (a) lack of competence, skills and knowledge about DSI and role of intervenors among health care professionals resulting in limited access to health care accompaniment; (b) COVID-19 related shift to virtual and telehealth appointments restricts access to health care services and intervenor’s support, and inhibits effective communication, and (c) structural barriers faced by intervenors to facilitate communication of their older adult clientele with their healthcare provider.
The findings highlight challenges experienced by communication support specialists in facilitating clients’ needs. Lack of knowledge about DSI and intervenor’s role among health care professionals is interlinked with communication challenges and confined intervenor support, resulting in inadequate health care service delivery and restricted access to public health information to older adults with DSI. Communication support specialists suggested the health care access of older adults with DSI could be improved by educating health care professionals about DSI, services and interventions and communication techniques.