We need to improve communication access for the elderly

As a community, we must do better to acknowledge communication disability and the impacts it has on quality of life and take action to improve the situation, writes Gaenor Dixon.

Jane (not her real name) is 86-years-old and over the last few years her hearing and speech have significantly deteriorated.  She lives in a Melbourne aged care facility where most of the other residents are deaf or near-deaf, which makes conversation difficult.  To complicate matters further, Jane has trouble speaking clearly and loudly, which makes it near impossible for her to talk to other residents unassisted.

It wasn’t until a speech pathologist fitted Jane with a speech amplifier that Jane was finally able to have a conversation with her friend, a woman with a hearing impairment she had been sitting next to in the dining room for years.

Jane’s story is not uncommon.  In Australia, 95 per cent of people living in residential aged care have at least one communication impairment, which often results in social isolation, loneliness and a poorer quality of life.

For most residents, a communication disability is usually accompanied by or the result of conditions such as dementia or Parkinson’s disease.  For instance, 50 per cent of people with dementia experience communication difficulties, as do 85 per cent of those with Parkinson’s disease.

On the surface, overcoming these problems appears insurmountable.  And while there may not be a cure for either condition, enhancing people’s quality of life by giving them back their ability to communicate is something that can be done relatively easily, and with great rewards.