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Holistic Care of Patients With Hearing Loss

by Jody Vaynshtok
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Let’s play a game—open a web browser and search “hearing loss.” What do you see?

My search yields advertisements, consumer ratings and pictures of scary, beige block-like ear pieces. Words like suffer, damaged, incurable and inability appear on the screen. I’m also simultaneously bombarded by ads that promise “perfect hearing” and “improved listening.” And although touching, emotional videos of patients with hearing aids or cochlear implants (CIs) hearing for the first time aren’t representative of the majority of cases.

The overall feel of a search on “hearing loss” provides overwhelming, product-heavy and sales-y results. And this is the opinion of a speech language pathologist, someone working in the communication sciences field.

So what is the perspective of the patient or parent? I can only imagine such search results are either a turn-off or result in unrealistic expectations. In thinking about the perspective of the patient, my business partner—audiologist Melissa Wilson—and I, asked ourselves some key questions to frame how we can best address a patient’s hearing health care:

  • How do we educate our patients and their family members about hearing health care?
  • How do we make hearing health care not feel so product- and sales-driven?
  • What are the patient’s overall communication needs, and how can an SLP work alongside an audiologist to address those needs?

Our approach (and we are still learning!) involves interdisciplinary communication. Both of us working together can meet the patient’s overall communication needs and go beyond supplying a product like hearing aids. We can implement an overall communication plan.

Below, I explain some ways our clinic provides holistic hearing health care for children and adults.

For pediatric patients:

  • Start with a team approach through joint evaluations—you can learn more about how our clinic tackles this collaborative assessment process through the my previous blog post.
  • The SLP can use assessment data to produce strong goals for the family and ensure the child is meeting speech, language and listening developmental milestones.
  • As young children often need multiple audiology appointments to fully determine auditory status, the SLP’s observations can be invaluable to the audiologist in determining functional access to sound. The SLP’s feedback also highlights possible changes to hearing status and needed adjustments to hearing aids or CIs.
  • For those children with (central) auditory processing disorder, the SLP can use the data from the audiology evaluation to create auditory training goals and then compare pre- versus post-treatment evaluation results to gauge effectiveness of the treatment plan.
  • For children with hearing loss, the SLP can support the family in their understanding of hearing loss and treatment options. One of our favorite sites to share with families is Hearing First—a great resource for promoting the child’s development along with activities to help develop strong listening skills.
  • Another favorite site, with a multitude of resources for numerous professionals, is Karen Anderson’s Supporting Success for Children With Hearing Loss. We especially like the “Relationship of Hearing Loss to Listening and Learning Needs” handouts, which clearly explain the implications of hearing loss on the speech signal in the classroom. These handouts are fantastic for parent and educators. Reading and referencing them—as well as most of the info on this site—provides a cross-disciplinary training exercise for the SLP and audiologist!
  • Both the SLP and audiologist can keep the interdisciplinary model going and connect with the child’s caregivers, daycare providers, educators, learning specialists, deaf hard of hearing specialists and educational audiologists to make sure the entire care team understands the goals of intervention, and the use of any technologies.

For adults:

  • After gaining improved access to sound through hearing aids, cochlear implants or assistive listening devices with the audiologist, the patient can take one very important step further by implementing an auditory training or aural rehabilitation plan with the SLP. The SLP can use computer-based training tools such as Angel Sounds or LACE (and give the audiologist access to track progress) or provide in-office treatment sessions.
  • As many adult patients with hearing loss also have secondary (central) auditory processing difficulties, the SLP can add listening skills, language processing and metacognitive strategies training to treatment sessions.
  • As the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline becomes clearer to researchers, the older patient can also benefit from SLP assessment and treatment.
  • The SLP can help the patient become a better advocate for themselves by giving them the tools needed to better understand their hearing health, and by encouraging them to connect with others. We encourage patients to look to the online community Hearing Like Me or to join their local Hearing Loss Association of America
  • The SLP can support the audiologist in identifying key communication difficulties that the patient continues to have at home, at work or in social settings, which in turn allows the audiologist to adjust or add technologies and tailor recommendations for environmental and workplace accommodations.

A new level of support and success to the listening journey is provided to the patient and their family when the audiologist and SLP work closely together. Let’s change the conversation on hearing loss by having the conversation about the hearing loss patient!

 

Jody Vaynshtok, MS, CCC-SLP, co-founded Sound Speech & Hearing Clinic, a private practice in San Francisco offering speech, language, hearing and auditory processing services. jody@soundshc.com.

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