Poor Hearing Confines Seniors To Their Homes

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Vision and hearing problems lessen the active participation of seniors in various events and activities. It was noticed in two studies carried out by the Gerontology Research Center.

Impaired vision and hearing allow it to be hard to interact in social situations. However, social relationships and situations by which it comes with an opportunity to meet and communicate with other people are essential for older adults’ standard of living.

“Sensory impairments are common among seniors. About one third of Europeans aged 50 and older were found to possess impairment in hearing, vision, or both sensory functions. Sensory problems are markedly more prevalent amongst older age groups,” Anne Viljanen says.

“We discovered that seniors with hearing problems take part in group activities and meet their friends more infrequently compared to those with good hearing,” Tuija Mikkola says. Group activities are challenging for seniors with hearing problems, as they often have a great deal of difficulty conversing with multiple people in a noisy environment. The results also demonstrated that people with hearing difficulties perceived their ability to live their lives because they would like as poorer compared to those with higher hearing.

Tuija Mikkola’s study is part of a broader LISPE (Life-Space Mobility in Senior years) study. Within the LISPE study, 848 community-dwelling persons aged 75 to 90 years were interviewed. Nearly half of the subjects reported some difficulties and something in ten reported major difficulties when speaking with another person in the existence of noise.

Anne Viljanen’s study was done in collaboration with a research group in the University of Southern Denmark. The information gathered through the SHARE (Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe) project includes 11 European countries. More than 27,000 persons 50 years and older from the Nordic countries, Central Europe and also the Mediterranean countries participated in SHARE. SHARE did not include Finnish participants.

“The research evaluated the prevalence of hearing and vision problems and whether these sensory impairments are associated with social activity. People with vision or hearing problems were less socially active than those without sensory problems, and people with both vision and hearing problems were least socially active,” Anne Viljanen says.

Anne Viljanen and Tuija Mikkola think that preventive and rehabilitative measures are important to be able to support older people with sensory impairments in living socially active lives. You’ll be able to compensate an impairment of 1 sense to some extent, for instance individuals with hearing difficulties are more likely to use visual cues of speech. Thus, it is important to converse face-to-face with people with impaired hearing as it helps facilitate lip-reading. Concomitant hearing and visual impairment also requires special skills from healthcare and rehabilitation personnel, as well as close collaboration between different healthcare specialists.

These studies were carried out by the Gerontology Research Center, which is a collaboration between the University of Jyv?skyl? and the University of Tampere. The studies are a part of a global consortium called Hearing, Remembering and Living Well. The studies were funded through the Academy of Finland as part of the ERA-AGE2 call.

The results happen to be published in international scientific journals.

Mikkola TM, Portegijs E, Rantakokko M, Gagn J-P, Rantanen T, Viljanen A. Association of self-reported hearing difficulty to objective and perceived participation away from home in older community-dwelling adults. Journal of Aging and Health. In Press. DOI: 10.1177/0898264314538662

Viljanen A, T?rm?kangas T, Vestergaard S, Andersen-Ranberg K. Dual sensory loss and social participation in older Europeans. European Journal of Aging 2014; 11: 155-167. DOI 10.1007/s10433-013-0291-7