Seniors with hearing loss have difficulty participating in the simple yet wonderful activities of daily life that many of us take for granted. Listening to a favorite song, joining in a friendly conversation, or chatting with someone over dinner can be downright hard for the “hard of hearing”. For seniors who also have dementia, the challenges of hearing loss can lead to even greater isolation and anxiety.
Our team at Compass on the Bay took on this challenge. Compass on the Bay is an assisted living community in South Boston, MA dedicated exclusively to those with cognitive decline such as Mild Cognitive Impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Our staff at Compass saw the effects of hearing loss on residents with dementia and decided to take a new approach with a surprisingly simple piece of technology: headphones.
How the headphones work
Several years ago Compass on the Bay began using an advanced wireless headphone system called Eversound which blocks out distracting and often overstimulating background noise. It also enhances the sounds of activities, music or voices.
The headphones can be worn by residents during meals, visits with family members or care staff, or during any of our therapeutic programs. When residents are unable to attend a program in person they can still listen to a program taking place, regardless of their location in the community. That’s because the headphones are wireless and portable. They connect with our AV system and with a wireless microphone that our program leaders and visiting guest lecturers use. They can be used by multiple people for large-group activities or by just one person. And, they are compatible with hearing aids.
A life-changing impact for those with hearing loss
Symptoms of hearing loss can often be mistaken for dementia. The headphones have been extremely helpful for our staff to better identify which symptoms are truly cognition-based, and which have been made worse by hearing loss.
These headphones have also had a transformative effect on residents, some of whom had not been able to fully participate in conversations or activities for years before coming to Compass on the Bay. Residents who used to be passive or unengaged during programming now light up when they hear a musical performer sing their favorite song or are able to play along during trivia games. You can see anxiety and frustration disappear almost immediately.
One resident has coped with isolation due to hearing loss for more than 10 years. She wears the headphones and now participates regularly and enthusiastically in daily therapeutic activities. Another began using headphones to watch videos of her daughter presenting her academic research across the country. Other residents enjoy listening to their favorite poetry or traditional Irish music. The headphones also allow for normally quiet “alone-time” activities, such as sitting outside in our sunny courtyard, become personalized concerts for our residents with hearing loss.
Our staff and our residents’ families have been very impressed with this headphone technology and moved by its positive impact on enhancing engagement with life and fostering joy for the hard of hearing. We hope more and more assisted living communities adopt it.