People with learning disabilities are more likely to suffer from hearing loss than the general population but are less likely to have their problem diagnosed, research has claimed.
Carers and support workers also need to receive better education because those with learning disabilities often rely on them for detection and management of hearing loss, the report from the University of Sunderland urges.
'Hearing loss in people with learning disabilities' suggests that the gap between occurrence and detection is because hearing loss diagnosis relies on self-referral, which is an initial barrier for people who may not have the awareness that they have a hearing loss, or the communication skills to alert others to this.
Study author and trainee doctor Lynzee McShea said: “Healthcare professionals rely on family carers and paid support workers to detect hearing problems, support the individual to attend an assessment and to then ensure consistent hearing aid use and aftercare. This is a big ask and our research suggests most carers and support workers do not yet have the necessary skills to do this optimally.
“Better hearing can improve quality of life significantly and we have powerful evidence of the difference hearing aids can make in the lives of individuals with learning disabilities. The next phase of the research involves working in collaboration with support workers, using their ideas and feedback to design a training programme that enhances their knowledge and allows them to make a difference in their working practice.”
However, initial referral is just one part of the process. Barriers can also be found during the hearing assessment and in after care, following hearing aid fitting.
More than 90% of people with learning disabilities assessed in McShea's independent study have been diagnosed with hearing loss, despite fewer than 10% of carers having any concerns regarding hearing prior to the consultation.
Even if a carer does suspect the possibility of hearing loss, barriers remain because this is not seen as a priority by GPs compared to other health problems.
The report also says there are often misconceptions that people with learning disabilities cannot have their hearing tested or will not tolerate hearing aids.
The University of Sunderland is now working with support workers to design training programmes to increase their knowledge of hearing loss and raise awareness of the benefit hearing aids can bring.
To read the study in full go to: www.magonlinelibrary.com/doi/abs/10.12968/bjha.2013.7.12.601