Communication and Connection During Covid-19

Dale Johnson: America is aging. By 2030 all baby boomers will be older than 65. While most Americans over the age of 65 are still living in their community, not in nursing homes or other institutions, four and a half percent, that’s about one and a half million Americans, live in nursing homes. Two percent, that’s about a million seniors, are living in assisted living facilities. What does that have to do with your hearing? That’s a question we ask every Saturday morning, regardless of the subject on The Conversation Starts Here with Dr. Sandra Miller of Complete Hearing, complete-hearing.com. You can take time to hear these conversations again at that address. Complete-hearing.com. Good morning, Dr. Miller.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: Good morning, Dale.

Dale Johnson: Longing for the days when we’re not social distancing, when it’s appropriate to be able to see each other, sit down in a studio.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: Well, I’m really encouraged as we kind of get into this seeing things to be more open, that that’s going to happen sooner than later.

Dale Johnson: But you have made adjustments as have we here at the radio station to this COVID-19 lifestyle. Your staff doing a great job too of accommodating patients that are coming in through your doors at Complete Hearing. Before we get into our conversation today, review the adjustments and the modifications that you’ve made at Complete Hearing.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: Absolutely. We’re trying to keep all of our patients updated as well as your listeners. If you’re kind of just curious as to what would happen when you come into our office, currently we’ve posted a great video on our Facebook page and we’re just letting people know that our lobby remains closed for now, but that doesn’t mean we’re not seeing patients. So we are inside working hard to meet you.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: But we have some protocols in place. We’re doing what we call a COVID-19 prescreen before you even come in to make sure that you answer the questions we need to screen you with. And then you get your temperature taken, some hand sanitizing. And we really set the office up to have minimal interaction with other people so that you’re not going to run into a lot of people in the office, but your provider’s going to take great care of you. So just know we continue to honestly, just like the governor and the mayor, and we stay in tune with all the protocols that are being put out and we abide by those, and then we adapt them to our practice. And so we just made some changes that, ultimately is to always keep you safe and to keep our staff safe. And we continue honestly, to evaluate this weekly, to make sure that we are keeping everyone safe.

Dale Johnson: You can always catch up by going to complete-hearing.com. And I want to bring into the conversation, Complete Hearing outreach coordinator, Gail Jungemann-Schultz. Gail, thanks for being part of the conversation today. Good morning.

Gail Jungemann-Schultz: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Dale Johnson: Dr. Miller. What’s the connection between aging and hearing deterioration?

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: Well, obviously we see that our bodies are not meant to last forever and typically we will see that the aging process does bring on some hearing loss. It’s much more common as you age. Does that mean that’s the only cause of hearing loss? No, but that just means as we age along with environmental factors and medication we might take, disease processes we might have as we age, it is more common to have hearing loss as you age. And so Gail and I have a little bit of a connection, not only that we work together, she’s a great asset to our team, but we also both have mothers who are currently in facilities that, either a nursing home or assisted living, that we know the impacts of hearing loss. We know the impacts of them hearing well.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: And so I thought it’d be a great topic just to give you some real life examples of what’s happening in our lives currently, as we work with our family members. This is front lines for us and we just think about how can we best serve them. And I will tell you at Complete Hearing as we kind of get shut down in regards to, we can’t go into these facilities now, even as providers, but as a family member, like what impact does that have and how can we still reach out to our family members? Or how can we still reach out to these patients and give them the best care they need when we’re limited on what kind of access we can have to them?

Dale Johnson: Tell me what that access looks like in our days of COVID-19.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: That’s a really good question. I would tell you, I’m going to give you my experience then I’m going to let Gail talk a little bit about with her mom as well. From the business side of it at Complete Hearing, most of the facilities currently in Lincoln are still not letting outsiders in. And so what we would typically do is go in and provide education. We would provide hearing aids services in terms of cleaning, checking, education. And currently we just can’t go in. And so what we’re doing to combat that, or to take that as an opportunity, is we’re working with the staff more closely. We’re just trying to get education out to them. Whoever’s providing that care currently for them, and we need to get those tools in their hands. And so we’re doing videos, we are doing Zoom meetings with the staff to say, “Hey, we’re still here to help you, but let’s give you the tools that we might be providing that service. Now we need you to help them out.”

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: And then from my personal experience with my mom, she doesn’t live here locally and Gail will have a little bit of a different input on this, but I would just tell you, connecting with my mom is one of the most important things we can do. And the facility there is providing this ability to Zoom with your family member, which is great. And I encourage all of you who are really having this limited access to your loved ones, is that’s vital for them. They need connection. They need connectivity. We’ve talked in the past about how this really has an impact on their memory. It has an impact on their emotional wellbeing. So I encourage those of you who have that access that you can at least do that is to make sure that you do that.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: And I’ll let Gail kind of talk about what she’s experiencing with her mom as well.

Gail Jungemann-Schultz: My mother moved into a skilled care facility after a fracture that occurred right at the time we were moving into lockdown, within those facilities. That was really difficult because not only was she dealing with the pain of that, but had to move to a new location and we started to see her really disengage and became very concerned about that. So our family implemented, I think, a multi-pronged approach. I go up and visit my mother at her window in the care facility, because fortunately she has a window to the outside. And I do know a number of care facilities are providing that window contact for family members. And I have a nice place to sit and we use the phone and we can chat and she can see my face.

Gail Jungemann-Schultz: I think one of the important things to understand is that as we age, we use a lot of different senses to make sure that we are communicating. So being able to see me visually, I don’t wear a mask when I’m sitting outside because there’s nobody around me, which is very fortunate. It helps my mother be able to understand what I’m saying. And she picks up those visual cues. So the use of numerous senses helps to reengage and support the cognition that older adults really, really need to maintain. And so that’s been a really great opportunity. We used mail a lot. None of my daughters live near and they’re close to their grandmother. They started writing letters and including pictures and they kind of each take turns so that my mother basically gets mail four times a week that includes a personal letter, those kinds of things.

Gail Jungemann-Schultz: So those are just some strategies that we put in place so that she would have that connection. We find that personally, when we use Zoom or FaceTime, either one of them, my mother likes to watch it like television, because that’s what she connects it to or watching home movies. That was the other thing, is my mother, we took home movies when I was a child. My mother connects that screen with being a movie and doesn’t really realize she can interact with that. So that’s taken some prompting.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: Yeah. I love that comment because my mom does exactly the same thing. She doesn’t understand that we are actually there having a conversation and she’s always kind of looking around and she’s not quite sure that I can see her and she can see me and we can have this interaction. That concept oftentimes just escapes her.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: And so I love that you said that because I think that’s so true. We have this wonderful technology available to connect with our loved ones now when we can’t have access to them, but what’s the best way to communicate with them. And sometimes it might not be Zoom or it might not be visibility. And I would go with the same thing my mom says, whenever she knows, when she gets a card and she loves the mail and things like that, but I think it’s so important that you pointed that out because I think it’s difficult sometimes when we have technology, but how are we using it is definitely the question.

Gail Jungemann-Schultz: I think so, and being comfortable with using it as they are capable of using it. So now we’ve discovered that when we do that video chat, we make it kind of like a movie. We’re not expecting her to respond because that’s not within her cognitive ability. And so adjusting for our family members who are at whatever level of cognition they’re out at the moment, I think is really, really vital. And unfortunately there’s not a lot of guidance to tell us what that is. And not only do we struggle with that, but professional staff struggle with that as well. When I talked to a number of behavioral health providers, they have talked about the fact that sometimes telehealth works, but a lot of times when cognition is an issue, telehealth is very difficult. So all of us are trying to navigate that particular piece and figure out how can we make this work and keep our seniors safe.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: I find what’s so interesting too, Gail, is that we have this technology and ultimately it comes down to the very fundamental practice that they just simply obviously have to put their hearing aids on if that’s applicable.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: And so many times when we’re interacting with my mom, they may not have even put her hearing aids on because maybe she refused them or maybe they haven’t gotten them on her that day. And that simple, basic foundation of just simply having her hearing well is step number one and making sure that’s happening. And sometimes with, if we’re not allowed to go in and access them or make sure things are clean and working, but that piece is kind of getting overlooked, they have a lot of other things to worry about and work with with the residents. I know that’s very true, but we’re trying to engage with them that very first step of having their devices on and working is so important.

Gail Jungemann-Schultz: I’m so glad that you brought that up. You and I have had that conversation personally and you know, my frustration. And when I talk to staff members, I’ve said, “Well, who normally addresses that?” And they said, “You know, in all honesty it’s been family.” And so now when family has had to step back and engage in a different way, here are staff members who’ve never really been trained how to use these devices. This is a struggle for our staff members and it certainly points to a gap in services that none of us were really aware of before. So we also have to give them some support and so I love the videos that have been done and are available at our website because they’re great for staff too. And they’re finding them very useful.

Dale Johnson: Dr. Miller, in the few moments that we have left, remind people how they can reach out to Complete Hearing.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: Absolutely. The best way to reach us is go ahead and check us out online at complete-hearing.com. We’re located about 72nd and Pioneers Drive. You can come to the offices and you can also give us a call (402)489-4418. We have a ton of resources that just address what we’ve talked about today. And if you’re having concerns with your loved ones or how to get them access or how to help the staff where they’re living, let us know because we’d love to be able to provide that service to you.

Dale Johnson: Dr. Miller, Gail, thank you both very much for your time today.

Dr. Sandra Miller Au.D: Thank you, Dale.

Gail Jungemann-Schultz: Thank you.

Dale Johnson: And if you missed something on today’s show, catch up by going to complete-hearing.com. Talk to you next week.

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