Combatting cognitive decline through new hearing innovation

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Bernie Cavis
Bernie Cavis

“Deafness separates us from people.” — Helen Keller 

Over the past two decades, researchers have tried to study the correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. It was not until a 2013 study commissioned by Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging, however, that the scientific community began taking a closer look at that correlation.

When “Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults” was published, it demonstrated the direct effect that hearing loss has on individuals including an increase in hospitalizations, declining physical health and an increased risk of dementia. The findings of Frank R. Lin, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues have spawned dozens of new studies and initiated a specialized field of science between audiology and geriatrics. Added to this research is the fact that one in three people aged more than 65 years have hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.

Given all this information, it is critical that the senior living industry proactively work with residents to combat, when possible, this trend of cognitive decline.

Having worked in the senior living industry for many years, we see the front-line response to hearing loss. Families often turn to hearing aids as an option for their loved ones. Seniors, however, often lose hearing aids or forget to replace their batteries. Hearing aids also pick up ambient background noise, so seniors often don't use them, which further exacerbates the problem.

We, as an industry, have to figure out how to encourage residents to use listening devices so they can better engage in activities and with one another in a meaningful way that will help slow cognitive decline.

Late last year, Commonwealth Senior Living and Eversound launched a trial partnership to try to find answers to some of these questions.

Eversound is a patented wireless listening system designed to improve hearing for older adults in senior living communities. Eversound headphones block out extraneous and distracting noise, allowing individuals to focus and engage fully on tasks and activities. Each set of headphones includes an easy-to-use volume dial, which provides the user with volume control creating a more comfortable and effective experience for residents.

The trial occurred at Commonwealth Senior Living's Front Royal, VA, community and within a week, we began seeing a substantial difference in the way residents were interacting with family members and at activities.

The biggest surprises we saw were in our memory care neighborhood. Two residents had a hard time focusing during meals because they became easily distracted by ambient noises. As soon as we tested the Eversound system on them, they became relaxed and engaged in the meal process and began feeding themselves.

Examples such as these began cropping up across the community, and family members were astonished by the fact that they were now able to reconnect with their loved ones in ways they had not for years.

The experience was so profound that we began working together on a larger rollout to all 23 of our communities. This was a daunting task given the wide geographic spread of Commonwealth Senior Living's communities, but our partnership allowed us to provide individual training for programming staff at every community.

One of the major benefits of Eversound is that the system is easy to use. This not only helped with the training of associates but provided residents with an additional layer of comfort when trying the system. The ease of use was increasingly important with members of resident councils in assisted living, who wanted first-hand training before it launched communitywide.

Results always speak louder than words, though. Since the rollout of Eversound, all activities at Commonwealth Senior Living's communities have seen a 20% spike in resident attendance. More importantly, the engagement rate during these activities has seen a dramatic increase as well, since residents can hear and, therefore, engage more meaningfully.

Eversound is just one tool to help combat the correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. As the senior living industry evolves, providers will need to come up with other new and innovative strategies to help residents live a better quality of life. That is our challenge and our opportunity.

Bernadette Cavis, above, is vice president of programs for Commonwealth Senior Living. Matt Reiners, left, is vice president of customer engagement at Eversound

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes guest columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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