Kate Dupuis is the Schlegel Innovation Leader at the Centre for Elder Research at Sheridan College. In her research, she identifies the benefits of arts programming for an older population and examines potential barriers (e.g., cognitive loss, institutional policies) to active participation in the arts. She is a registered Clinical Neuropsychologist and a professor in the Faculty of Applied Health and Community Studies.
Toronto HEARS: A new service delivery model for older adults with untreated hearing loss
Hearing loss is highly prevalent in individuals aged 65+ years and is associated with declines in cognitive, physical, and mental health. Tragically, fewer than 20% of those with hearing loss use hearing aids. Acknowledgment of hearing loss takes time; the average period of time between identification of hearing loss and seeking help is 10 years. Hearing loss goes largely untreated due to its associated stigma and the challenges of accessing traditional models of hearing health care. Thus, new models of hearing health care are needed to address the many barriers inherent in the current system. Toronto HEARS (Hearing Equality through Accessible Research Solutions) is a new community-based model of hearing health care developed at Johns Hopkins University to address untreated hearing loss in an older population.
The Toronto HEARS program was offered to clients of four community center senior day programs in low income areas of Toronto. All participants had at least mild hearing loss, were not currently using hearing aids, and scored above 21/30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. A Communicative Disorders Assistant worked with each participant to identify communication goals, provide education (ideally along with a communication partner) regarding better hearing and communication skills, and (optional) assist them in choosing between two low cost over-the-counter hearing devices. Participants were oriented to the device using materials tailored to their communication needs. Specific outcomes of the intervention related to communication ability, social participation, and quality of life. Ninety-five older adults were screened for eligibility to participate in this study. Of those, 30 were eligible. Participants were followed for one month post-intervention.
At the follow-up session, the majority of participants reported improvement in dealing with their top-rated communication goal. In addition, 70% of participants reported that Toronto HEARS helped them to hear ‘moderately’, ‘quite a bit’, or ‘very much’ better, 64% of participants reported that the skills they learned in Toronto HEARS made their enjoyment of life either ‘quite a lot better’ or ‘very much better’, and 96% of participants reported that participating in Toronto HEARS has been ‘quite a lot’ or ‘very much’ worth it overall. This program represents an innovative, accessible, and affordable alternative to the current hearing healthcare model.