Healthy Hearing, Healthy Ageing
- New Community-Based Hearing Clinics for Elderly Singaporeans
Singapore — Unaddressed hearing loss, especially among the elderly, is associated with cognitive decline, dementia, social isolation and depression. It also presents workplace safety challenges and may lead to increased dependence on family, friends and community support services, as well as a fear to go out alone. Some elderly are reluctant to visit a hospital for assessment of hearing loss that they do not deem as a major health problem.
To assist them, a multi-disciplinary team from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine), National University Hospital (NUH) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has established three community-based hearing clinics that leverage on a new boothless method developed by the hearing research team at NUS Medicine. It uses a portable hearing test system that has a built-in sound isolation technology for constant noise monitoring, allowing hearing tests to be conducted without the need for sound insulated testing rooms typically found in hospitals. The method allows greater flexibility for audiologists to provide hearing care to the elderly in community settings and reduces cost in its setup.
Dr Jenny Loo, Senior Principal Audiologist and Head, Department of Otolaryngology, NUH, noted, “We never imagined that hearing testing can be done at your doorstep. This new model of community hearing care makes it possible for us to look towards providing hearing care to even home-bound individuals.”
“Having these hearing clinics in the community not only offer greater convenience for the elderly but also free up resources for hospitals like SGH so that we can focus on patients with more complex hearing issues,” said Mr Gopal Krishna Sarepaka, Senior Manager and Senior Principal Audiologist at SGH’s ENT Centre.
Besides providing early and convenient access for elderly with hearing loss symptoms, these clinics are helping to reduce patient load at the restructured hospitals, allowing them to focus their attention on patients with severe and complex hearing and balance disorders. The three clinics are located at Pioneer Polyclinic managed by NUH, as well as Tiong Bahru Community Health Centre managed by SGH and SGH’s Sleep Centre in SingHealth Tower. These clinics are open on weekdays, and are open to referrals from selected polyclinics and general practitioner for adult Singaporeans with hearing issues. The consultation fee varies based on the subsidy status of patients. They can get also their hearing aids at the same subsidy level as others seen at a restructured hospital, if they are eligible.
Professor William Hal Martin, NUS Professor of Otolaryngology and Public Health, NUS Medicine, who led the development of the new method said, “We are excited to be able to help our wonderful seniors connect with their families and friends by hearing well again. We also hope that the results of this collaborative research study will provide valuable insights that can shape the future of hearing care in Singapore and globally.”
Although still in its pilot phase, both SGH and NUH have found that the hearing test results using this new boothless method is comparable to those conducted in hospitals. Concurrently, the NUS Medicine hearing research team is also comparing the wait times and experiences of patients at restructured hospitals and a community-based hearing clinic. More of such community based clinics may be set up depending on the outcome.
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