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258: Dave Blanchard

Changing the perception of hearing loss and hearing aids to create connection for happier, healthier older adults is the mission of Dave Blanchard, Strategic Business Development at Hamilton CapTel

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Welcome to season six of Bridge The Gap, a podcast dedicated to informing, educating, and influencing the future of housing and services for seniors. Powered by sponsors Accushield, Connected Living, Hamilton CapTel, Referah, The Bridge Group Construction and Solinity. The contributors are brought to you by Peak Senior Living and produced by Solinity Marketing.

Josh 00:33

Welcome to Bridge the Gap, the Senior Living podcast with Josh. My co-host Lucas is not with us today. We are wishing him the best as he is out conquering the world as only Lucas can do. We wish him the best, and you’ll see him again soon. But today I am honored to have a special guest and a longtime partner of Bridge the Gap podcast, Dave Blanchard, strategic business development at Hamilton CapTel. Dave, it’s great to have you with us.

Dave 1:04

Thanks for having me, man. It’s good to be here.

Josh 1:07

Yeah. So Dave, I can’t believe that this is your first time on the show. You have been a partner and Hamilton CapTel has been so supportive at help bringing information, education and helping to influence the senior housing industry as our partner. So it’s an honor to have you on today.

Dave 1:26

It’s my honor as well, you know generally speaking, I kind of stay behind the curtain. And I’ve got just some super talented folks out in the field that everybody’s used to seeing at trade shows and at the Bridge The Gap event that they’ve really enjoyed.

Josh 1:43

Well, we know you have an All-Star team, and we’re glad you’re not behind the curtain today. We’re glad that for all of our listeners and viewers, actually I would say probably Dave, a lot of our listeners have heard you around the industry. You’ve been out and about, you’ve spoken on a variety of different topics and so you’re no stranger to the industry. And I know not to our listeners as well, but today, one of the topics that we want to talk about is social determinants of care and why they’re important to senior living professionals. So that’s kind of the framework for discussion. Can you get us started on that?

Dave 2:20

You bet. You know, in dialogue, where we live, it’s generally speaking about the impact of hearing loss on seniors. And so we’ve spent a fair amount of time talking to medical professionals, to caregivers and so on, all about how do we get hearing loss as a more accepted mainstream solution rather than the chronic condition that everybody kind of forgets about or you have the passive approach to hearing loss. Like my father-in-law – talk about the guy all the time – and he’s just like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about with hearing loss. It doesn’t bother me.” So, you know, you’ve got people that have not really accepted the fact that hearing loss has an impact or they don’t understand that hearing loss can actually be one of those things that drags down other chronic conditions. Because comorbidities, the word of the week, it’s one of those things that if you do address hearing loss, maybe your diabetes can can better. If you do address your diabetes, perhaps your hearing loss improves. So in that research, we talked to some medical professionals, and we learned the term social determinants of care, social determinants of health. And really what it is, it’s a stack ranking of the environmental impacts that affect people’s lives. And so it can be anything as simple as education, what type of food are you getting in public schools or private schools? It can be, were you raised in an economic condition that was more favorable or less favorable? And so these are the things that really have an impact on your health. Stress is part of it. Alcoholism, obesity, all the things you can imagine that have an environmental impact on your body itself going through day-to-day life. These are the things that actually collectively are measured in the medical industry, and it creates what’s called the social determinants of care.

Dave 4:20

And so for a long time we wondered aloud like, “Why are hearing aids not really more covered under Medicare or Medicaid?” Right? And it’s because when you look at the top chronic conditions out there regardless of who you are, you know, we’re moving into a society where electronic health records are more and more regular thing. Or if you’ve ever done a Teladoc thing from home, if you had COVID and you’re just checking in on the phone or checking in online, all of that information is aggregated together. And what happens is they create this list of chronic conditions, and they’re stack ranked as to most prevalent to least prevalent. And so hearing loss, for instance, I’m just making up arbitrary numbers here, but let’s say hearing loss was 150th than the list of chronic conditions. Well, now with the explosion of the boomer generation where everybody, it seems is in that age band hearing loss has become far more prevalent. And so you’re seeing improvements on a couple of different fronts. 

Dave 5:21

First, Medicare covers hearing aids or hearing solutions a little bit more than what they have in the past, only because it’s gone from 150 to let’s say 70 because of the explosion of the boomer generation. And so by looking up, and it’s an easy thing to Google, if you look up social determinants of health or social determinants of care, you’ll see these impacts. And the way that can be a helpful tool, or at least it was for us, is how do we talk to people about solutions that are gonna have this great impact on their lives? Because we know isolation, especially in seniors, is like the one thing we can kind of control if we take steps with it. So that’s really the context behind why we thought we’re gonna start introducing this. And I spoke at ICAA on a panel not long ago down to Orlando, and we talked about the social determinants of care. And as soon as you get that kind of furrowed brow, like, “What are you talking about, man?”, and as soon as I started talking about it, the whole room leaned in and said, “I need to know more about that.” So we thought, “Ah, this would be a great topic for us today!”

Josh 6:29

Well, it is, and we do need to know more about it. And, you know, I personally need to know more about it. We’ve got a very diverse group of listeners and viewers. Many are in the communities providing the care, and then many are supportive roles, whether at a corporate or a financial standpoint. But in order to bring the care team together and coordinate better care for these communities and these residents it takes a village, so to speak. But, you know, through the years, this particular thing that you’re talking about, which is the ability for the residents to hear, lack of hearing, I personally witnessed that a lot of the population we were caring for over the last 10 or 15 years have hearing loss of some form or to the level of disability. And it was amazing to see how that impacted them and a reluctancy to do things, to be engaged in the community because they couldn’t hear. And it has been really encouraging for me to now see a lot of the technologies that are coming around to help support and assist the residents in better hearing. But we know that getting residents connected to others and being engaged is such a huge part of quality care and quality life. What have your studies shown and what have you seen out there as far as trends to help the connection for older adults?

Dave 8:03

The first story I’ll tell you is, you know, back in the day, so I’ve been around for about 12 years. And so when I started, we were kind of a one or two person show and really did a grassrootsy kind of effort. And so the first time I ever installed one of our phones, and this is not a commercial about the phone, the woman’s name was Norma. She was a jump nurse from World War II, right? So she flew in a lot of planes and jumped out of planes, parachuted in and helped soldiers, you know, kind of a thing. So, she’s an awesome lady, super assertive, but man, she had profound hearing loss. And I did an install at her house and we hooked up the phone that’s got captions in it. And the first phone call she made in over 10 years was to her friend Sylvia.

And she said, “Sylvia, I cannot believe I’m gonna be able to call you every week now.” And it’s that moment, not again, not a commercial about our phone, there’s lots of people that make phones. There’s lots of solutions there, but it’s that moment that you don’t realize what it’s done. And I think that’s the hard part about hearing loss is it’s such a gradual thing. You know, it’s kinda like when you go to the eye doctor, it’s like, “Ah, I’ve had glasses for a couple years, you know, it’s like, I think they’re just fine.” And then you get the machine on your head and it’s like, “Oh my God, did my eyes change? I can’t believe it!” And so it’s the same thing with hearing loss where it’s a gradual decline often, or there was an incident for those of us who went to concerts.

It may have happened at a much younger age for those of us who worked in a factory like my father-in-law, again, he worked in a factory, so he’s got a hearing notch, and he had no idea that the entire family around him was frustrated with the fact that he was constantly blowing us off, basically. Not because he wanted to, it’s because that’s just, he was having trouble processing the information, and so he just ignored it. We’ve also seen people that just don’t want to go to a restaurant because the boominess of a cool old brick restaurant is not good for somebody that’s got a level of hearing loss or tinnitus, you know? And by missing those opportunities to connect a family where you just sit there at the table with your hands full, then you can’t interact at all because you’re not able to hear anything.

It’s a tough deal, and the technology is advancing so fast now and I know we’ll talk about over the counter a little bit here, but the technology’s advancing so fast now that noise reduction, noise filtration, directional microphones, like if I’m sitting across from you right now, if I’ve got a decent set of hearing aids, the microphones for my hearing aids, the horns itself are pointed at you, and it will pick you up more than it will pick up the noise coming from the sides. So that technology, so advanced, and it can make such a difference when someone does grasp the opportunity to address their hearing loss at whatever level. You see that immediate change in confidence in levels of happiness. And if they can take one step to eliminate isolation, man, it’s just the coolest thing.

Josh 11:30

Well, you touched on a couple of things, Dave, and I think sometimes we don’t think about as providers to be cognizant that there’s varying degrees of hearing loss that, you know, maybe it doesn’t really become evident to us for lack of a better term, until we have a resident that really can basically hear nothing, but there could be varying degrees before that’s ever the issue that does impair their ability to connect. So for the providers that are listening, just to literally be alert to maybe put some programming in your community to even evaluate, could you help our listeners kind of understand from your years of experience in dealing in this area? You know, you touched on a couple of things. You touched on what Medicare, Medicaid can assist with from a reimbursement providing payment for, and then you also segued a little bit into a topic we want to dive into in our time that we have left on technology that could be over the counter. Because as providers we often refer to ourselves as care coordinators. And there’s so much emerging technology and resources out there, where do we even begin?

Dave 12:55

Right, right. Yeah. You know, so the story I told at ICAA was really around the drawer. There’s a thing in the hearing loss industry where people are like, “Okay, I went to the audiologist. I got these hearing aids, they were super cool for about a week, and it was really hot out and I was sweating and stuff. And then I don’t know what happened, they just stopped working. So I put ’em in the drawer.” And so the drawer is a thing. So if I had to give a tip to anybody’s look in the drawer, man, cuz if there’s a $3,000 pair of hearing aids in there, the thing that people forget is the reputation of audiologists, somehow or another got wrapped around the axle of, I’m gonna spend a lot of money there. And really what it is, is for that dollar figure then that it really brings about the advent of over-the-counter, OTC.

And so because of that reputational influence audiologists have really put on the show as far as, you know, the level of service you can get. And so if you’ve got a sweaty old pair of hearing aids because you were outside, you were doing something active, you sweated up and, and the tubes that go into your canals filled up with wax, with dirt or dust and they just stopped working, you can get those taken care of. And that’s really the difference between an over the counter solution and a fully served more advanced solution that’s got more of the noise filtration, more of the amplification, more of the directional microphones. So I think that people, if they were to pay attention to whether or not, if you’ve ever had hearing aids, is it something that we can work with now? And then if not, there’s so many more choices now that are available. We can get into that when you want.

Josh 14:43

Yeah. Well Dave, even from a starting point, and again, I’m thinking back to some communities cuz we’ve got so varying from small communities to large communities, regional operators, but if a community is wanting to even kind of guide families towards resources to assist their residents, where’s a good place to start? Because obviously there’s over the counter things, but where should they go? Do you all have resources like that to be a good starting place?

Dave 15:18

We do, we’re a sponsor of, which is like the largest, the busiest website when you search on hearing loss, it’s the one that comes up the most. And they’ve got white papers and YouTube videos and articles and things like that. And they’re pointed at not only the end user, the person that has the hearing loss, but also family influencers. Because that’s where the magic is. As a caregiver, if you can impact the family influencer and ask, “Have you noticed the hearing loss?” And sometimes the adamant pushback of like, “I’m not doing that because that’s just not me.” Or we hear it a lot with the veterans we work in. We have a whole program called Heroes with Hearing Loss, and we work with veterans who are always very stoic and strong individuals and they don’t wanna show weakness because, and they think if there’s hearing aids hanging back here, it’s gonna show I’m not a Marine anymore because that shows my weakness.

And so we’ve gotten people past that stigma of “I’m showing weakness” to more – we’ve tried to change the dialogue – of “why don’t you wanna be connected?” Because now your hearing aid can connect to your phone, it can connect to your smart tv, you can Bluetooth stream right into your hearing aids. And it’s changing the belief that this is a horrible over the top imposition on my life trying to talk to everyone about the fact that you can be connected and it’s that connection, not just to your smart TV or to your smartphone, but it’s connected to others as well. And so having that dialogue and making it more mainstream is the thing that we’re seeing work the best because caregivers, family, influencers, grandkids, they’re all affected the exact same way. And if the person just refuses to, to address it, taking a step at a time, like a caption phone was sometimes called like a gateway drug of you know, it’s like the first step. It’s like if your life is a little bit better because you’re not as crusty on the phone as you used to be, trying to micromanage the conversation, it can be better if you can read along with what the other person is saying and you’re not as frustrated on the phone. So there’s steps you can take in the short term for sure.

Josh 17:44

Well, and you know, I can only imagine with something like hearing loss, same as I’ve recently experienced, as our viewers can see, I’ve started wearing glasses probably five years ago. I didn’t have these glasses on all the time. It happens so gradual sometimes, we don’t realize how bad it has gotten and how much we’re missing out on, you know, and how much we’re not hearing until it’s assessed. It’s evaluated and oh my gosh, what a meaningful difference it makes. And I, you know, I just have to believe that a lot of these dining rooms and a lot of these activities and a lot of these lounge spaces in our communities all across the country could be having more meaningful interaction with some attention to this area and evaluating that, being aware of that, and then assisting professionals to wonderful resources like what you mentioned that we will certainly be putting in our show notes for all of our listeners and viewers, not only connecting our viewers and listeners to you personally, but your team at Hamilton CapTel and then also that wonderful website and resource that you gave. And so I know this has been a great just sort of a teaser episode to introduce our audience specifically to you, Dave, and thanks so much for being on the show today.

Dave 19:09

My pleasure. Anytime you wanna talk about hearing loss, it’s not like my 18 year old wants to listen to it, but for our world that we live in, if I made a little bit of a difference today and got somebody turned onto the fact that solutions sometimes when it comes to hearing loss are a little easier than you think, then it’s a big win for me.

Josh 19:30

Well, I agree Dave, and thank you for all the investment you’re making to help the senior space better be improving lives. We’ll make sure that we connect our audience to you in the show notes. We want to thank everyone for listening to another great episode of Bridge The Gap.

258: Dave Blanchard