Home | Technology | Mobile app eases mask stress for deaf residents
The NSW Guide Healthcare team have tackled the communication difficulties led on by COVID-19. Picture: Supplied.

Mobile app eases mask stress for deaf residents

A new app has sought to break down communication barriers between elderly residents and staff brought on by face masks and social distancing.

The Care Cards app, developed by NSW allied health provider Guide Healthcare, uses preset questions or probes to query residents on essential aspects of daily living, basic mobility and general health.

Occupational therapist Elizabeth Jacob came up with the idea after her client, a 100-year-old deaf woman with dementia, grew frustrated after not being able to hear her carers from behind a mask.

"I noticed that mask-wearing was having an indirect, unintended negative impact on communication and experience of elderly residents, especially with hearing impairment and cognitive decline," she said.

“The use of masks was becoming a trigger for behaviours such as aggression in some residents with dementia or cognitive impairment.

“I also felt a degree of frustration among elderly residents with a hearing deficit and also some increase in resistance to care as residents were unable to understand communication from staff.” 

In residential care, as many as 85 per cent of people are thought to experience mild to moderate hearing loss, according to peak body the Deafness Forum of Australia.

The introduction of mask mandates in 2020 has created a daily struggle for people who rely on lip-reading and facial expressions to communicate.

Face masks have also brought on a host of challenges for health care workers, according to Jacob.

"Even for the simplest task of assisting with sit to stand transfer using a walker requires a series of instructions to ensure the safety of the resident," she said.

"Writing down every greeting, question or prompt on a paper or whiteboard is often the only other option, but this can be too demanding and is extremely exhausting for the staff.

"One could imagine the complexity when it comes to doing a thorough assessment or while assisting a resident for daily activities."

After listing a series of questions on a deck of cards to show to residents, Jacob noticed an immediate shift in their daily interactions.

“I found that this was empowering the resident to understand communication from staff better, and to make choices and express needs,” she said.

“This, in turn, had a huge positive impact on the mood, engagement, and overall well-being of the resident.”

After Elizabeth showcased the idea to her colleagues, the idea snowballed into a free mobile app which was then trialled in care homes in NSW, ACT and Victoria.

Managing director of Guide Healthcare and physiotherapist Simon Kerrigan said the Care Cards app has received hundreds of downloads since being released in 2020.

“We’ve had resident feedback saying they find it so much nicer from a care experience perspective because they are not constantly having to ask people to repeat things,” he said.

Most recently, the app was nominated for this year’s national HESTA Impact Awards, which recognise critical contributions to health and community services. 

Kerrigan said that Apple has since removed the app from its store due to it being too "simplistic".

There are hopes to raise enough funds to restore the app and to include a translation service, voice reader and the ability to create custom cards.

Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the top stories in our weekly newsletter Sign up now

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *