If long-term care facilities can afford them, hearing clubs can lower stress and improve physical and mental health, mood and overall quality of life for their senior citizen residents, an audiologist in a noted Canadian geriatric care center said.

During a poster panel at the American Society on Aging’s annual conference titled “Aging in America” at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago, Marilyn Reed, MSc, Reg. CASLPO, senior audiologist and professional practice leader for audiology at Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System of Baycrest Health Sciences, a well-known geriatric care facility in Toronto, said its Hard of Hearing Club helps seniors with severe hearing loss communicate well and take part in social activities.

Reed explained that the Hard of Hearing Club, described as a long-term “audiologic rehabilitation group,” fights the loneliness and depression that comes with hearing loss among seniors who cannot communicate effectively and engage in social activity as a result. The panel was titled “The Hard of Hearing Club: A Social Model of Hearing Rehabilitation for Seniors Isolated by Hearing Loss.”

Research in the Adult Audiologic Rehabilitation journal, Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, Seminars in Speech and Language and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society finds that seniors benefit minimally from hearing aids because of the way hearing loss affects them.

Aside from hearing aids, they also utilize FM systems, Blackberrys, VCO phones, facsimile machines, e-mail accounts, strobe and amplified alarms and vibrating alarms.

Seniors need more rehabilitation to improve their communication skills and practices, researchers say.

“Most places don’t do this because they don’t have funding,” Reed said, adding that a hearing club is also being operated in a senior care facility in New York with some panel participants commenting that Baycrest hearing club should be franchised as such advantages don’t exist with many other senior long-term care entities. “If you have diseases long enough, you will have other problems too.”

The hearing club is a social forum for seniors with hearing loss and resulting isolation to meet, make friends, discuss problems and explore solutions. An interdisciplinary team at Baycrest of social workers and physical therapists developed the program’s design and scholarship.

Participants discuss the highlight of the week, making friends, participation, warmth, feeling valued and included, respect, support, honesty, tolerance and understanding. Some seniors reported the club as being the “only place” where they could “hear and be heard.”

The program consists of weekly meetings over a period of time. In the case of the Baycrest hearing club, it has lasted 13 years. A scientific evaluation of the club found a high rate of attendance among seniors to the club over this period.

The quantitative aspect of the evaluation also found the program scored high in a hearing loss measuring instrument for Hearing Handicap Inventory for the Elderly (HHIE) and Quality of Life measure (MOS SF-36 scores).

Additionally, the qualitative aspect of the evaluation found social activities among members outside of meetings, testimonials from members and families and focused group interviews.

“[Researchers] use disease to evaluate [the quality and effectiveness] of the rehabilitation,” Reed said. “One woman [still] could not hear despite technology. [The club] is big in providing social activity. [When examining the program], I try to find a quality of life benefit. It shows change overtime.”

Still, despite high praise and engagement from families and friends, she said that many senior participants don’t want their loved ones to be reminded of their hearing loss and its consequences.

“When I include [their friends or family members in a] group, some people are uncomfortable,” Reed said. “They don’t like that. They don’t want their friends to see them like that.”

The group contains 12 to 15 members who share a similar age range, hearing loss, culture and personal history. They meet in an accommodating setting with the appropriate acoustics, lighting and seating.

The facilitator of the group has strong communication skills and knowledge of the technology used to manage the club. The club’s members devise the rules of communication and engagement for the entire group.

“I’m a facilitator but I don’t tell [them] what to do,” Reed said. “[The aim is to combat] loneliness and depression. It has an impact on well-being and quality of life. [Those are the completion and outcome] goals.”

In the process, they gain experiential learning by practicing communication strategies and repairing conversations, she added. They explore common concerns and solutions, train in assertiveness, and advocates for themselves as individuals and as a group. “We have a tea and cookie time with the club,” Reed said.

The goals of the club are to reduce isolation by improved interactions and participation in group activity and enhanced ability to manage what is widely recognized in the senior long-term care industry as “activities of daily living” (ADL) such as shopping and health care.

To achieve these goals, they use technology and behavioral strategies, promote self-efficacy and confidence and participate in their own health care treatment.

“You can give people information but, if they can’t use it, it’s a big thing,” Reed said. “So many panels [at the Aging in America event] are on television. They need audiologists.”

She explained that when a hearing club is studied, a specialist in cognition and hearing in seniors may be among the evaluators.

“As long as we know about cognitive decline, we are measuring cognitive status to incorporate management options,” Reed said. “You don’t know [the details about cognitive impairment among senior participants] unless you talk [with them] again.”

She added that in Canada — as in the United States — seniors have always lived at home. She especially saw this in the 35 years that she resided in the country, stating that most people can’t afford long-term care but instead rely on support for individuals aging in place.

As the daughter of a senior citizen herself, an elderly mother in palliative care in her native England, Reed said she saw “some of that support.” With the evolution of the senior care industry, different components of the health care system are assembled to accommodate seniors to stay in their homes, she said, stating that Baycrest provides similar services to such households.

“We at Baycrest pay attention to outreach,” Reed said. “We do outreach services. I’ll go to nursing homes. We do that with teams. We have behind support units. We see funds for outreach teams.”

Still, she acknowledged that families find it hard to pay for care at home, particularly home health care.

“We need support for caregivers,” Reed said. “We need support for caregivers. There should be rewards. Not all families can support mum. Every day, at Baycrest, I hear them say this. The spouses [of senior residents] are desperate. They are old themselves. They are frustrated. [They ask] ‘how to do it?’ Things will have to change with the aging [of the nation’s] population.”

This article was originally published February 2014 on the website of PharmPsych.com, one of seven websites that comprise The Pharm Psych Network, a medical communications and education company.