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February 04, 2015

Among dying hospice patients, hearing problems are often overlooked, but shouldn’t be, experts say.Families and physicians frequently mistake hearing loss for dementia among the elderly and terminally ill, said Barbara Weinstein, a professor of audiology at the City University of New York.

The Institute of Medicine’s recent report, Dying in America, outlined core components of quality end-of-life care, many of which are tied to patients’ ability to listen and communicate: patient counseling; distress management; attention to social, cultural and religious needs and assessment of physical and emotional well-being.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of Americans age 85 and older have hearing impairments. And Medicare and the Medicare Hospice Benefit do not cover hearing aids, which can cost between $1600 and $3500 each.

Hospices might be able to work “with resources in the community if there was a patient with a need for hearing aids,” said Judi Lund Person, Vice-President of Regulatory Affairs for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Athens, Ohio-based audiologist Bethany Gonczy started one such community program within her Diles Hearing Center to loan hearing aids to hospice patients. She saw a need after treating cancer patients who lost hearing due to chemotherapy or pain regimens.

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