Lost Hearing Aids in a Nursing Home Adds Insult to Injury
As people age, one of the first senses that may start to diminish is hearing. Hearing loss is common among the elderly population, and while it levels off for some individuals who are able to continue their lives without hearing assistance, others find themselves in need of hearing aids. When an older person relies on a nursing home to assist them with their needs, they typically assume that personal belongings like hearing aids will be handled with care by the staff. Unfortunately, one of the most commonly lost items in nursing homes is hearing aids. Usually, when a nursing home loses a critical piece of medical equipment, like hearing aids, it evidences a bigger problem of understaffing or negligence.
So Is a Nursing Home Responsible for Losing Hearing Aids?
When a nursing home loses your parent’s or loved one’s hearing aids, you may feel lost. Hearing aids are expensive, customized to your family member’s hearing, and replacing them is neither simple nor quick.
Can you sue a nursing home for losing someone’s hearing aids? The short answer is technically yes, but the more complete answer is a little more nuanced.
Progression of Hearing Loss Over Time Underscores the Importance of Hearing Aids in Nursing Home Residents
Hearing loss is a more complex issue than simply hearing sounds at a reduced volume. Other qualities of sound, such as clarity and tone, also become difficult to discern when the ears are no longer functioning as they once did. This removes much of the environmental context necessary to thrive by reducing noise processing abilities. Only 32% of individuals over the age of 70 do not exhibit clinically significant hearing loss; that means that 68% of older folks have lost some hearing ability.
On average, hearing aids cost approximately $2000, and many families wonder if this cost can be recovered in a lawsuit. However, most lawsuits revolving around hearing aids arise as a result of the numerous health consequences related to losing one’s hearing aids, rather than the monetary value of the hearing aids themselves.
Hearing Loss Tied to Negative Health Outcomes and Injuries in Long Term Care
The consequences of losing hearing aids are not simply limited to a reduced ability to hear sounds. Numerous studies and publications have documented a known phenomenon: that lack of hearing aids contributes to multiple negative health outcomes. Injuries and even death are more likely when a resident’s hearing aids have been lost.
The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the National Institute of Aging conducted a study that concluded that even relatively minor hearing loss was associated with a three times greater risk of falling than typical hearing. For every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss, a person is 140% more likely to suffer a fall.
Within the context of nursing homes, falls are extremely dangerous. Older individuals are more susceptible to serious injury due to slower healing time and more easily fractured bones that have become brittle with age. Falling can result in broken hips and even cranial fractures, which may lead to subdural hematomas (also called brain bleeds).
Why would falling become more common without hearing aids? Experts posit a number of suggestions. Many suggest that hearing is an important part of spatial awareness, and being unable to discern audio cues indicating the presence of people, pets, or objects could contribute to falls. Others suggest that since an individual with hearing loss is spending increased effort on processing the few sounds they can hear, their motor processing is not as quick and reactionary because their brain is otherwise heavily occupied.
Communication is an important part of thorough healthcare. When an individual is unable to adequately hear their healthcare providers and caregivers, they are not able to advocate for themselves or their needs. Studies have noted a correlation between failure to communicate as a result of hearing loss and an increase in medication errors.
This may arise due to the patient misunderstanding what is being asked or provided (“Do you need pain medicine right now?”) or being unable to distinguish the meaning of a question (“Has someone already been to visit you with your medicine today?”). If a patient is given medicine but cannot hear what that medicine is, they will be unable to correctly answer a later question about whether they have already taken their medicine. Similarly, they will be unable to identify if they have been given the incorrect medicine.
Negligence & Abuse
Residents whose hearing aids have been lost are more susceptible to nursing home abuse and negligence. Whether this arises in the form of being unable to voice their needs or failing to respond to staff about important matters that they cannot hear, residents are vulnerable to mistreatment as a result. Negligence and abuse may come in the form of previously discussed challenges, such as medication errors and falls, or other injuries as well.
Current Rules on a Nursing Home’s Responsibility Relating to Hearing Aids
The majority of nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuits that involve hearing aids contain these additional negative health components that resulted from the lack of hearing aids. However, the law does also speak to a nursing home’s responsibility toward its residents and their personal possessions.
The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 stipulates that residents have a right to retain possession of their own belongings. This requires an environment in which they can feel safe that their items will not be lost or stolen, because lack of critical items such as hearing aids is linked to a loss of identity and control.
However, the Federal Register documents a change to nursing home regulations with additional language clarifying that “the facility shall exercise reasonable care for the protection of the resident’s property from loss or theft.” This means that facilities are responsible for ensuring that residents’ hearing aids are not lost or stolen.
The Take Home Message —
Loss of Hearing Aids Alone Probably Does Not Warrant A Lawsuit, but be Wary of Disorganized Nursing Homes
If a set of hearing aides is worth $3,000, your court costs will quickly outpace your recovery if your only damages are the loss of the hearing equipment. As such, a civil lawsuit against a nursing home for losing hearing aids, standing alone, is probably not worth it.
However, there are considerably larger damages in personal injuries sustained in skilled nursing facilities. That is likely where your potential case lies, if you have one.
So to conclude, if the facility lost your parent’s hearing aids but your parent is fine, take it as a blessing in disguise. Use this as a justification to have a care plan meeting to see if the facility is providing appropriate care for your loved one. If not, get them out of the facility before they suffer a serious injury.
Free Case Consultation on Nursing Home Injury or Death Claims
If you suspect that a nursing home has been negligent or abusive which resulted in physical injury beyond the loss of hearing aids, reach out to one of our skilled attorneys at Senior Justice Law Firm. Our firm focuses on cases involving injury and wrongful death due to nursing home neglect.
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