A fascinating project recently got underway looking at whether or not people find it easy to talk about health-related issues, in particular deafness and dementia.
Called ‘Knowing what to say and how to say it’, the project explored how people talk about issues relating to their own or someone else’s hearing or memory.
It involved a questionnaire circulated to local people in the Stirling area. Members of Forth Valley U3A and other organisations completed it.
The aim was to learn if people feel at ease or reluctant to raise and discuss these subjects. For instance, how do they go about starting such a conversation? And what are the implications for the way agencies and organisations offer support and help?
The project was a joint endeavour by two Stirling-based groups, Our Connected Neighbourhoods (OCN) and Ideas for Ears (IFE). OCN works to improve experiences of people with dementia, while IFE does the same for people with hearing loss.
The collaboration recognised that deafness and dementia have similarities in the way the conditions can cause or increase loneliness and disconnection from other people.
The questionnaire was answered by more than 60 respondents. Most respondents were aged 65 plus, and most had hearing or memory difficulties themselves or had a close friend or family member who did.
Here are a few of the more notable findings:
- Respondents were more comfortable talking about concerns relating to hearing than with memory.
- Respondents preferred the idea of talking to a healthcare professional – but wanted that person to be a specialist, especially for memory concerns. They least liked the idea of talking about their issues with colleagues or of asking for assistance from, say, shop assistants or other service providers
- Although most respondents said they found it easy to articulate their thoughts or feelings and to read the body language of loved ones, a sizeable number said they did not.
- One of the most commonly used descriptors for people who have memory issues was ‘forgetful’, and for people having hearing issues, it was ‘hearing loss’. The most disliked descriptors were ‘muddled thinking’, ‘wandering mind’, ‘selective hearing’ and ‘dodgy hearing’.
- Most respondents said that if they noticed signs of worsening hearing or memory in someone they knew well, they would be likely to raise the issue with that person. They were more likely to do this with hearing than memory. ‘Not wanting to cause upset or offence’ and ‘fear of a negative reaction’ were the reasons most likely to prevent issues being raised.
Conclusions from these findings
- There is more sensitivity around memory issues than hearing issues.
- Concerns might not be raised because the individual with whom they could potentially raise them is judged not to have sufficient knowledge, expertise or understanding.
- We cannot assume people will disclose their difficulties and ask for help, even though many service providers and workplaces have this expectation.
- We cannot assume that those struggling will be able to explain why they are struggling, even though this is often expected of them. Nor can we assume that a person’s signs of discomfort will necessarily be spotted.
- There could be a mismatch between the way the general public speaks about hearing and memory and the way in which support agencies and other organisations speak or write about them.
- There seems to be a real willingness for people to support others, but also a lack of confidence in being able to broach conversations about hearing or memory without causing upset.