Deafness diagnosis problems for people with learning difficulties

Lynzee McShea from The University of Sunderland.
Lynzee McShea from The University of Sunderland.
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PEOPLE with learning disabilities are less likely to have hearing problems diagnosed, claims a Wearside audiologist.

Lynzee McShea, who is studying for a professional doctorate at the University of Sunderland, says her research has shown those with learning disabilities are more likely than the general population to suffer hearing problems, but less likely to have them diagnosed and given hearing aids.

She said carers and support workers need to receive more help in the detection and management of hearing loss.

Lynzee’s report, Hearing Loss in People with Learning Disabilities, focuses on the issues they face and why they are left undiagnosed in the long term.

The research, published in the British Journal of Healthcare Assistants, says the main reason for the lack of help is because hearing loss diagnosis relies on self-referral, which is an initial barrier for people with learning difficulties, who may not be aware they have hearing loss or the communication skills to alert others to it.

However, the research shows initial referral is one small part of the process and barriers can also be found during the hearing assessment and in after-care, following hearing aid fitting.

Lynzee, who works as a senior clinical scientist in audiology at Sunderland Royal Hospital, claims more than 90 per cent of people with learning disabilities she has assessed have been diagnosed with hearing loss, despite fewer than 10 per cent of carers realising there was a problem prior to consultation.

She 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.”

Now, Lynzee and The University of Sunderland, are working with support workers to design training programmes to increase their knowledge of hearing loss and raise awareness of the benefit which hearing aids can bring.

Lynzee added: “Better hearing can improve the quality of life significantly and we have powerful evidence of the difference that hearing aids can make in the lives of individuals with learning disabilities.”

The report said other barriers exist, such as GPs treating other health problems with higher priority and the misconceptions that people with learning disabilities cannot have their hearing tested or will not tolerate hearing aids.