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Coping with hearing and vision impairment in everyday life

What facilitates people with hearing and vision impairments to manage everyday life? According to a ZHAW study, it is important that these individuals speak out and that the people around them offer time and patience.

There are about one million people in Switzerland who do not hear well. In addition, many people over 70 years of age also have increasingly poor eyesight. These impairments impact people’s ability to cope with everyday life, as well as their social integration and safety. For example, when the elderly are no longer able to hear meat sizzling in a pan, see the little red lights on the stove or adjust high-tech devices that no longer have knobs, their behaviour relating to cooking, eating and inviting guests will change.

“In nursing, hearing impairments are not adequately discussed and are often underestimated”, says ZHAW nursing scientist Daniela Händler-Schuster. However, nurses, she says, are often the first point of contact for senior citizens living at home. This is why she has carried out a ZHAW study (in German) in which she investigated how older people cope with their hearing and vision impairments in everyday life in order to develop recommendations for nursing practice. For this study, which was financed by foundations and Pro Audito associations, 46 men and women over 70 years of age were interviewed.

Hearing is belonging

One of the main findings of the ZHAW study is that being able to communicate is crucial for those impaired and influences how successfully they integrate new assistive devices into their everyday lives. Communication, however, takes time. While the processes of hearing and understanding usually happen without much conscious effort for those without impairment, for people with hearing loss this is tiring as it requires a great deal of concentration. The interviewees expressed having particular difficulty along these lines in group settings. In order to prevent embarrassment, they forgo meeting up with others and social activities. “In social situations they feel isolated due to their impaired hearing ability”, explains Händler-Schuster. “During lively discussions they can often only hear snatches of words.”

Identifying and giving the problem a name

Usually it is someone close to the person experiencing impairment who first makes mention of a hearing problem and thus initiates a process of diagnosing it. Those with impairments often do not notice their own gradual loss of hearing or do not want to acknowledge it. In such cases, Händler-Schuster says that nurses can play an important role by identifying impairments, carrying out initial hearing screening and arranging for further tests. At the same time, they can make those with impairments and their families aware of the problem, provide information and support them as they adjust to the change.

After the diagnosis: What now?

After being diagnosed, people with impairments are usually confronted with problems in everyday life, relationships and social life. Feelings of dependence and the fear of further hearing loss alternate with the hope of regaining their old hearing ability. Ultimately, people with impairments adjust to their new hearing ability in their everyday life. They can find success in doing so if they actively confront challenges with new strategies and assistive devices. «For example, they might read the script before going to see a play, ask the speaker at a talk to use the microphone, or set the topic in a group discussion themselves in order to be able to take part», says the ZHAW nursing scientist.

Strengthening resources and overcoming obstacles

An important factor in the adjustment process is the support of family members and peers. More importantly, those with impairments especially need to have the courage to make themselves known and self-advocate for their own needs. This can be difficult for people who are afraid and have little self-confidence, suffer from multiple illnesses or are going through crises caused, for example, by the death of a partner. Here, too, Händler-Schuster sees potential in the role of nurses: «They can support people with impairments by helping them to find stability in life, expand their social networks or take part in activities», she says.


Prof. Daniela Händler-Schuster, ZHAW School of Health Professions, Institute of Nursing, phone: +41 (0)58 934 65 34, e-mail daniela.haendler-schuster@zhaw.ch 

Rita Ziegler, Deputy head of Corporate Communications, ZHAW School of Health Professions, phone: +41 (0)58 934 65 28, e-mail: rita.ziegler@zhaw.ch