Hearing clinic goes the extra mile to help patients suffering from dementia

by jonlinds

When Kari Weisgerber was studying to become a hearing aid practitioner, one of the first patients she worked with was an older woman living with Alzheimer’s disease.

When the woman grew frustrated, as those living with dementia sometimes do, she’d pull out her hearing aids and throw them away. Her Alzheimer’s could make it impossible to find them again.
“She was much less combative when she could hear, so her family would always replace the aids,” says Kari. “But hearing aids are expensive! We don’t want them getting lost.”

After thinking it over, Kari had an idea: a lightweight strap for the aids, barely noticeable to the patient.

It was simple, but it worked like a charm. The woman would get frustrated and throw her aids. She’d enjoy a break from the noise. Then a caretaker would discreetly tuck the aids back into her ears.

Seeing the impact this had on the patient and their family made a big impression on Kari, now the director and CEO of the Hear In Edmonton clinics.

“Being able to hear is not a cure for dementia,” she says. “But we certainly see improvement in the quality of life for our patients with dementia and their families when we help them hear.”
That is why Hear In Edmonton’s staff are all specially trained in testing the hearing of people suffering from dementia.

“It may take a little longer, or need to be done in pieces, but we almost always get some very useful results,” says Kari. “Whatever the patient can give us, we can make use of. For instance, with speech testing, instead of letting the machine do it, we do it with our own voice and just take our time.”
Kari and her team all do house calls, making it easier for patients who might struggle in new environments to enjoy the best hearing they can.

“We’re unique in that we’ll come to your home,” she says. “All of our equipment is portable, and we can accommodate any health problem or situation.”

In fact, depending on the case, a house call can result in better treatment for a patient, as their hearing aid can be calibrated in their particular environment.

“Hearing loss and dementia both can result in frustration, misunderstanding what people are saying, and not getting the full picture. Telling them apart can be pretty tricky.”

But Hear In Edmonton’s services don’t just improve the lives of those diagnosed with dementia. “People are often surprised when they learn about the similarity in symptoms of dementia and hearing loss,” says Kari. “It’s widely known in the industry, but not among people in general.

“Hearing loss and dementia both can result in frustration, misunderstanding what people are saying, and not getting the full picture. Telling them apart can be pretty tricky.”

If you think a loved one might have dementia, it’s worth making sure that hearing loss is not part of the problem. You might even find out that what was thought to be dementia can be remedied with hearing loss treatment.

Of course, hearing aid technology has come a long way since Kari’s student days. One of the most important innovations for patients with dementia is the development of GPS-linked hearing aids, which can help locate loved ones who may wander off and get lost. They can also make finding the aids themselves much easier.

Kari remembers one patient with dementia in particular who benefitted from this.

“He was very hard of hearing, and he wouldn’t go anywhere without his hearing aids,” she says. “His wife really appreciated that she could locate him on her phone if he managed to leave the home without anyone being aware. It was a really wonderful peace of mind.”

Other technological developments of note include wireless microphones that connect to hearing aids and can be clipped to a lapel and allow a patient to engage in conversation in noisy public places like cafes and restaurants. These mics also allow Kari’s patients to do things like go to church and still hear the pastor.

The tools used have changed since Kari began her career two decades ago, but the intent of her craft is the same: restoring personal connections.

“All too often it’s easier to step back from someone who has dementia, or hearing loss, or both, and not engage,” says Kari. “I think that’s a shame.

“Modern technology gives us so many tools to reconnect people with their loved ones. We want to maximize hearing to minimize challenges.”

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Hear in Edmonton.jonlinds | June 24, 2019 at 12:20 pm