How Does Assisted Living Work for Deaf Older Adults?

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

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Hearing loss is common among older adults. The National Institutes of Health estimates that one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has some hearing loss. But what is the difference between hearing loss and being deaf? Being deaf means that a person can’t hear at all or has a very limited hearing ability. 

Some people are born deaf, and others acquire deafness through age, genes, illness, or accident. Modern-day hearing aids are very sophisticated and can help older adults with hearing loss. Still, these hearing aids may be frustrating in their complexity, and older adults may choose to go without a hearing device rather than try to cope with learning how to use one.

Although cochlear implants can work to restore hearing in some situations, older adults sometimes avoid this surgery and prefer to live with hearing loss.

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Hearing loss can have a significant impact on a person’s emotional, psychological, and cognitive well-being. Someone who was born deaf has learned how to cope and also learned sign language. But it is important to remember that people who are born deaf also become old and need assisted living when they are no longer able to function independently.

What’s Assisted Living for Deaf Older Adults?

Assisted living communities deal with deaf older adults routinely. However, their level of preparedness for this condition varies. There are some assisted living communities across the country that cater only to deaf people.

Considering the absence of assisted living communities that serve only deaf older adults, chances are you may likely have to consider a regular assisted living community for your deaf loved one.

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What Care Do Deaf Adults Receive in Assisted Living?

Care for deaf older adults should be specialized and focused on making someone feel a part of the community. Daily tasks such as assistance with activities of daily living like help with bathing, dressing, and hygiene are standard and routine for every resident of assisted living. That said, accommodations and care that older adults who are deaf include the following:

Staff fluent in American Sign Language and deaf culture

A facility would have staff versed in American Sign Language for people who use sign language to communicate and consider themselves part of Deaf culture. It would also be helpful for the staff to have an understanding of the social difficulties associated with hearing loss. This requires staff ability and availability to bring deaf older adults together with hearing residents.

Programs and staff to help everyone socialize

Social isolation and ostracization are common for people who can’t hear. It takes a committed and dedicated staff to help deaf residents fit into the general milieu. If an older adult meets the definition of deafness but does not know sign language, staff have to be able to communicate.

Communication can sometimes happen through lip reading, texting, or writing. It takes patience and time to convey information to a deaf person.

Detailed communication for care plans

When providing hands-on care to an older adult who is deaf, staff have to make sure that they understand how someone wants that care given. Again, communication is vital to care concerns and preferences.

Emergency systems with visual alerts

There should be emergency response systems in place that involve lights going off during an emergency and phones that light up when someone is calling. A deaf person must have accommodations to be able to respond during a crisis.

How Can You Tell If a Deaf Older Adult is Ready for Assisted Living?

Older adults in general can be resistant to assisted living, but for someone who is deaf, the idea can be terrifying. The transition from home to a congregate setting where everyone is a stranger and may be unable to communicate can require special attention.

But it is important to remember that the reasons a deaf person is ready for assisted living are the same reasons that a hearing older adult is ready. 

As someone ages, they might start to require more and more help with activities of daily living (ADLs). Cooking, shopping, managing medications, doing laundry, and keeping a house have perhaps become too challenging.

Cognitive impairment may contribute to safety issues like leaving the stove on or wandering. When safety becomes an issue and in-home help or family caregiving can’t meet the need, it might be time for assisted living.

Talking to a deaf older adult about assisted living should be done with great care and sensitivity. It can help to answer the many questions an older adult might have about how to make this transition and what kind of support will be available.

After your loved one has moved in, think about planning frequent visits to provide reassurance and iron out any problems.

What Should You Look for in an Assisted Living Facility for Deaf Older Adults?

The National Association of the Deaf has a senior resource guide where you can see if there are any assisted living community assisted living communities that cater to deaf seniors. You may also want to check with your area agency on aging. If you can’t find an assisted living specifically for older deaf adults, there are some questions to ask and things to look for.

For example, fair housing laws require that assisted living communities “provide distinct protections for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These consumers have the right to interpreters or other aids to ensure they can effectively communicate with housing providers.”

Cultural awareness of the staff

If your loved one has been deaf their entire lives, ask how many of the staff and healthcare providers are familiar with and trained to communicate with deaf people. If sign language is necessary, how many staff are trained and available who can offer that service?

Even if your family member became deaf later in life or has severely limited hearing, staff should be prepared and experienced at dealing with this issue.

Emergency response systems

Ask about the systems in place in case of an emergency for someone who can’t hear. Don’t forget about the phone and how your loved one will know that someone is calling.

Social interaction

It can be very isolating to be one of the few people who can’t hear in a community of hearing adults. How will they make friends or communicate with other people? Who will be responsible for bridging the communication gap between your loved one and other residents, and how will this happen? Are there plenty of leisure activities that don’t require hearing?

Access to interpreters

If your loved one is versed in American sign language, they have the right to interpreters. Ask about the availability of interpreters. There should be no charge for those services, and assisted living communities are required to offer those services.

Technology

Teletype and telecommunications device for the deaf (TTY/TDD) communication equipment allows residents to participate in phone and video calls with closed captioning and smart televisions. Is this technology available, and are rooms wired for these assistive listening devices where seniors can contact staff?

What Are Alternatives to Assisted Living for Deaf Older Adults?

Other senior housing options might be worth considering in that they can provide a more intimate atmosphere where your loved one might be more comfortable. There is also the alternative of trying to keep someone at home for as long as possible.

In-home care

In-home care is a reasonable alternative to assisted living if you can afford the help you need, and if the staff can do what you want. Each state dictates the tasks an in-home caregiver can perform so if your loved one needs medical attention that an in-home caregiver can’t do, then this may not be an option. 

However, in-home caregivers can provide a lot of support, and you can ask the agency if they have experience working with seniors who are deaf. Communication will be vital in this situation just like it is in assisted living.

Board and care or adult group homes

Board and care homes are usually in residential homes with just a few residents, which can afford someone additional attention. But, technology and staff requirements are the same.

The other potential advantage of a board and care home is the greater ease with which a deaf older adult might be able to socialize with others. The intimacy of these environments can be more conducive to making friends.

Adult daycare 

Although it does not take the place of assisted living, adult daycare is a viable alternative for someone who needs activity, cognitive stimulation, and medical services during the day. Adult daycare centers should provide the same accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing individuals that assisted living facilities do.

Ask about staff familiarity and training in working with deaf people and also about adaptive activities for participants.

Finding an Assisted Living Facility for a Deaf Older Adult

As you look for the best senior living option for your loved one that is deaf, don’t be dissuaded by the resistance you may encounter. People with hearing impairment have the right to enjoy and benefit from all of the amenities that assisted living offers. Using our tips, you can successfully advocate for your loved one.


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