People’s sense of hearing is impacted as they age. Approximately 1/3 of individuals between the ages of 65-74 exhibit some level of hearing loss which increases to 50% for seniors over the age of 75. Many of these individuals may not know they are suffering from a hearing loss and some might not want to admit it.
Signs of a Hearing Loss
You should see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Asking people to repeat part of their conversation
- Difficulty following conversations when multiple people are talking
- Incapable of hearing with background noise
- Lack of understanding when people speak directly to you
- Trouble hearing while on the telephone
- Trouble responding to doorbells, alarms, etc.
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio (e.g., having it much louder than others prefer)
Types of Hearing Loss
Mild VS Total
Aging, disease, heredity, and exposure to noise are common causes for a hearing loss which can vary from a mild hearing deficit (e.g., inability to hear a few high-pitched sounds) to a total hearing loss (e.g., characterized as the inability to hear audible sounds at normal decibels).
Sensorineural and Conductive
There are two general categories of hearing loss. A sensorineural hearing loss, which is usually permanent, results from the damage to the auditory nerve or the inner ear. And a conductive hearing loss occurs when the sound waves are unable to reach the inner ear and is often caused by a punctured eardrum, fluid, or an earwax buildup. This is not usually a permanent hearing loss; medical treatment or surgery can restore this type of hearing loss.
Rapid Hearing Loss
If the individual has a rapid loss of hearing to any degree, it is advisable to see a doctor immediately. In contrast to a rapid degree of hearing loss, age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, is characterized as a gradual loss of hearing. It is often hereditary and may happen due to changes in the inner ear and auditory nerve. With the onset of presbycusis, both ears are usually affected equally.
One hearing loss symptom is tinnitus characterized by hearing ringing in the ears. Besides a ringing sound, there may also be roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. The sounds come and go, they may be loud or soft, and you may experience them in one or both ears at a time. In older adults, tinnitus generally is the first sign of hearing loss and it might also signal additional health problems like allergies or high blood pressure. It may be a side effect of some medications.
Effects of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can lead to depression or withdrawal from social situations because of the inability to understand what others are saying or the feelings of embarrassment or inadequacy that come along with not being able to follow conversations. Studies have shown that seniors diagnosed with a hearing loss are at a greater risk to develop dementia and that memory skills and the ability to concentrate also decline more quickly in those with a hearing loss opposed to those with normal hearing ability.
What to Do
Any hearing changes should be discussed with your doctor. They may be able to diagnose and treat your hearing problem or you may be referred to an expert like an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist) or an audiologist (a health professional who can identify and measure the degree of the hearing loss). If the hearing problems are ignored or left untreated, they can worsen. What other helpful steps should you do?
- Ask those you are speaking with to face you when they speak
- Ask them to speak clearly and more slowly
- Find an appropriate location that is quiet and devoid of background noise
- If needed, tell them to reword or repeat what is being said
- Inform the person when you are not hearing or understanding what is being said
- Pay close attention to facial expressions, gestures, and what is being said
There are many treatments that can help with the situation: hearing aids, special training, medications, and surgery.
Hearing aids are electronic, battery-run devices that magnify the sound heard. Since there are numerous kinds of hearing aids on the market, you should check to see which devices your insurance company covers before purchasing them. Also, it is advised that you ask for a trial period so you can ensure the device is suitable for you. An audiologist, a specially-trained hearing aid specialist, will be able to fit your appropriately and help you to understand its use.
ALDs and ALDs
There are many other devices that can help with hearing loss. These are categorized as assistive listening devices (ALDs) that are designed for personal use in small settings or for use in larger facilities such as airports, places of worship, theaters, and classrooms. ALDs for larger facilities include infrared systems, frequency-modulated systems, and hearing loop systems. These can be used with or without a hearing aid or a cochlear implant.
In addition, augmentative and alternative communication devices (AACDs) ranging from a simple picture board to a computer program that can synthesize speech from text are also available. Alerting devices that connect to an alarm, telephone, or doorbell that emits a loud sound or blinking light to help notify a specific event is taking place. There are also remote receivers that can be placed around the house to alert a person from any room.
TTY and TDD
Text telephone (TTY) and telecommunication devices (TDD) help to communicate by telephone. A telecommunication relay service uses most devise with a keypad, including a laptop, personal digital assistant, and a cell phone. Captioned telephones are available to help carry on a spoken conversation and at the same time provide a transcript of the other person’s words either on a computer screen or readout panel as a back-up aide.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) is conducting research on additional areas of assistive technology based on more natural synthesized speech and brain-computer interface research.
Causes of a Hearing Loss
Besides aging, let’s look at the other common causes of hearing loss.
Diabetes and high blood pressure, bacteria and viruses, a tumor, a brain injury, or heart condition can also influence hearing loss. Earwax or fluid buildup can block sounds; a punctured eardrum is a factor as well.
Certain medicines may damage the inner ear. Known as ototoxic drugs, these include medicines to treat heart disease, cancer, and serious infections. Some antibiotics are also ototoxic. Check with your doctor if you are experiencing a hearing problem while taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications.
Heredity is another factor to consider for hearing loss. Some loss may occur at birth; others are manifested later in life.
Exposure to Noise
Loud noise typically from music, snowblowers, and lawnmowers can damage the inner ear, resulting in permanent hearing loss. Loud noise can also contribute to tinnitus. To prevent the impact of loud noise, turn down the television, radio, and headphones; distance yourself from the loud noise; and use earplugs and another ear protection regularly.
How to Talk with Someone Who Is Experiencing Hearing Loss
- Find a quiet place to talk
- In restaurants and social gatherings, move to areas that have limited background noise
- Use facial expressions and gestures to help express yourself and provide clues
- Sit/stand in good lighting
- Look at the person you speak to; maintain eye contact
- Speak clearly
- Speak slightly louder than normal but don’t shout
- If you think the person does not understand what is being said, then repeat, rephrase or summarize the conversation
- Take turns while speaking
- Be positive and patient
- Ask the person if they need any additional help
Hearing loss is a very common problem with the senior population. It is important to talk to a medical professional if you are experiencing any symptoms of hearing loss, no matter to what degree. There are many accommodations and tips that can help you with your hearing loss to help you to listen and communicate more effectively and to support your lifestyle as you age.
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