The University of Akron/NOAC
First, I would like to share the story that inspired me to write about this topic. Dr. Kristina English shared it with me after a hearing screening. The story is as follows,
A family had been given the news that their grandmother’s illness had received every available tr eatment, and it was now time to think about keeping her comfortable in hospice care. The patient had been a hearing aid user in the past but while managing several recent emergencies, the family realized the hearing aids were lost. Now that the grandmother’s pain was under control, she wanted to talk to every one of her beloved family members — although she could talk, she couldn’t hear their responses. So the family found the audiologist who had fit the most recent set of hearing aids and asked for help. New hearing aids were quickly provided and the family made full use of them, sharing memories and stories, and laughter and tears with the grandmother for as long as she was able. The time did not last long, however, and she peacefully passed away 10 days later. The audiologist was contacted about her passing and also the memorial service. She told the family she would arrange for a refund, but they declined. They reported that they “got more than their money’s worth” in those 10 days, and they would rather have the audiologist hold on the devices for other families who could use the same kind of help. The audiologist followed their wishes, and has lent the devices to other families in the same end-of-life situation. The devices are lightly engraved with the words, “Use with Love.”
After hearing this extremely powerful story relating to the end of life and audiology, I decided to try and find out more about this topic. I came to find that there is very little information in the literature about the end of life and audiology. This came as a surprise to me, as audiologists serve a population with whom the end of life topic must be considered. This got me wondering if, as professionals concerned with communication, are we focusing most of our interests on early life, and possibly negating a very important part of life, that is death? In the book, Death and Dying, Life and Living (Corr & Corr, 2013), the idea is shared that death is a very important part, if not one of the most important parts of individual’s life. There is absolutely no doubt it is important to make sure that children receive auditory input as soon as possible, but are we focusing so much on this aspect of audiology that we are forgetting about other times in life that communication is of the utmost importance? Is it possible that the first few moments, weeks or years are just as important as the last? Do audiologist have a place in end-of life care? Is it ethical to recommend amplification at the end of and individual’s life? These are all questions that, in my opinion, need answers.
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (2011), hospice provides expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support not only for the patient, but also for the patient’s loved ones. Hospice care involves an interdisciplinary team of specialists including; the patient’s primary physician, hospice physician or medical director, nurses, home health aides, social workers, bereavement counselors, clergy or other spiritual counselors, trained volunteers, and physical, occupational, and speech therapists (Toner & Shadden, 2012), if necessary. Audiologists are not currently listed as interdisciplinary team members for hospice and palliative care, but should we be?