Linda Richards: 10 things I wish care homes would do for people who have hearing and sight loss

Posted on April 25, 2014

The annual Great British Care Home Awards finals are due to be held in London on 26th April 2014.

The awards recognise the hard work and provision made by those who care for our elder folk. There are other awards ceremonies of similar nature but just how many of these homes really know how to care for folk with a sight and hearing loss?

There may well be care homes for Deaf people; there are plenty for hearing people; there’s a few for blind people; but there’s nothing really geared to those who are hard of hearing or deafened and who may have lost some of their sight.

So, these are folk who are not quite Deaf. Not quite blind. Definitely not hearing. Definitely not sighted. And yet, this group of those with this dual sensory loss comprise the largest group of residents within many care homes. They are also the most unrepresented by any organisation or agency.

Based partly on experience and partly on observation, here are ten things I wish care homes would do:

  1. Design care homes so that rooms are spacious and have the widest, tallest windows possible. Natural light is so important to good mental health.
  2. Install the brightest light bulbs possible in public rooms and people’s own rooms as they wish or need. Brighter lights are important for so many who have sight problems and will also obviate accidents.
  3. Install automatic motion sensor lighting that comes on whenever you enter bathrooms, toilets and other non-public rooms. A great idea for cupboards and wardrobes. A boon at night-time too.
  4. Make the venue fit the users. Pictures and mirrors on walls and suchlike may look nice but when they are all affixed at a height that’s as much as a couple of feet higher than the users or residents of the home, then they are not something that can be looked at or enjoyed. This is especially true of notice boards. It’s pointless if these are higher than people can see to read, and wasted when the material on the notice board is not in large print either. Large print should be standard practice.
  5. Consider carefully the crockery you purchase. Contrasting colour plates makes it much easier to see the multitude of ‘white’ coloured food that can get served up – chicken, bread, potatoes, and so on. Highball glasses are difficult to drink from. Instead, have wide rimmed short tapered glasses. Easier to hold, easier to drink from.
  6. If provided, ensure that televisions are the minimum size of 32″ screens in residents’ rooms and at least 50″ in public rooms. Make viewing comfortable, have subtitles on a default setting and position the televisions at the right height too!
  7. Have mandatory training in visual and hearing matters – including NOT placing glasses lens side down on surfaces and understanding how hearing aids work so that people are not given hearing aids to wear in the wrong ear or even without any batteries in them at all.
  8. Understand that shouting at someone with a hearing loss does not work. It can send confusing messages to people who may feel isolated, lost, unwell or who are already confused. Plus it’s noisy for everyone else to say nothing of not respecting their privacy.
  9. Switch off the television in the dining room when meals are being served. There’s enough noise already. Don’t add to it. Or don’t have one in there. Oh, and there’s a reason for tablecloths – they absorb noise!
  10. Have activities that do not rely on hearing or sight. Loss of these senses increase with an ageing population; be creative and inclusive.

There are, in fact, many more things I wish care homes would do. My list is actually much longer. I have also drafted a list of over 50 questions or issues that should be asked or looked into when considering a care home.

There’s also the issue of preparation. Preparing for looking after your older folk ahead of the time when care may be needed – be it in their home, your home or in a care home. In fact, preparing for your own golden days!

Apart from saving so much upheaval and heartache, planning this now means you maintain some control over what you want to have happen to your possessions and how you’d like your life to be. That’ll be another list for another time because, right now, I’m off to post this list to Great British Care Home Awards people.

It’s time to speak up for our older folk and especially those who don’t fit the standard mould.

Further reading/watching: 
Linda Richards is Deaf, pays council tax in Surrey but is rarely there as she leads a somewhat nomadic life travelling across the UK. Probably best known for her television, training, interpreting and translation work. A trustee of the BSLBT and also of St John’s Deaf Community Centre, London. Known to make a mean banana cake for her friends
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