Unique project will improve care for elderly deaf people

Elderly deaf people are a vulnerable group in society because few employees in health care know sign language. Therefore, a unique project has now been started. A mobile home care team consisting of people who have learned sign language is visiting elderly deaf people in Jönköping county. The project is being followed by researchers from Jönköping University.

Nurse speaks sign language with elderly man

Elderly deaf people are a vulnerable group as care is often not adapted to their needs. Personnel in health and social care services care see deafness as a disability, but are not aware that this disability has simultaneously shaped a special culture. This lack of awareness, combined with limited access to interpreters, puts deaf people at risk of being subjected to treatment they did not consent to. They are also at risk of receiving inadequate health and social care due to communication barriers.

"Imagine not being able to communicate with those who are supposed to help you, what a vulnerable situation that must be”, says Sofi Fristedt, one of the researchers in the project.

As a result, older deaf people often feel lonely, excluded and isolated, putting their mental and physical health at risk of deterioration.

"The elderly who are deaf in nursing homes often choose to withdraw and eat dinner on their own when they are not keeping up with what the others are talking or laughing about”, says Yashar Mahmud, a researcher who is also participating in the project.

First in the country

In order to make care more accessible to elderly deaf and sign language users in Jönköping county, a two-year project has recently started. The project is called "Mobile home care team for elderly deaf and sign language speakers in Jönköping County". The team in question consists of two deaf assistant nurses, who visit elderly deaf people at home. The nurses are proficient in sign language and have special expertise in this group. The project is the first of its kind in the country and is led by a project manager who is himself deaf. The aim is also to find good working methods that work in the long term for both elderly deaf people and their care staff.

Researchers follow the project

The project is followed by researchers from the School of Health and Welfare at Jönköping University. They are interviewing the elderly deaf and the care and nursing staff. In addition, the researchers observe how the assistant nurses interact with both the deaf elderly as well as the hearing health and social care staff. The researchers also observe how project employees and officials at municipal and regional level collaborate around the project´s purpose.

With this, the researchers hope to be able to evaluate whether the health, participation and security of the elderly deaf people are improved by the efforts of the mobile home care team and also to point out areas where positive efforts can be made to improve the conditions for this group.

The researchers intention with this project is to show working methods that give good results and can thus be made permanent and spread to other parts of the country.

“I myself have worked in healthcare for more than 15 years and have met elderly people with hearing loss. Myself and my colleagues, who work daily with quality improvement in care and social care, have realized through the project how little we know about what it means to be deaf. However, we know that we can come a long way by working together and learning from each other. Everyone in society has the right to equal care adapted to their needs,” concludes Sofi Fristedt.

The pilot project “Mobile home care team for elderly deaf and sign language speakers in Jönköping county”, is run by the Jönköping County Deaf and Sign Language Interperter Association and Vätterbygdens Association for the Deaf with support of the Allmäna Arvsfonden.

The project, which is carried out in the municipalities of Jönköping, Nässjö, and Gislaved, is followed by researchers from the School of Health and Welfare at Jönköping University. The project takes place in collaboration with Region Jönköping and the Municipial Development office, which works on behalf of the county´s 13 municipalities.