Imagine slowly losing the ability to have conversations with family and friends because you can no longer hear them very well. Or, withdrawing from your favorite activities due to the frustration and embarrassment of not understanding what is being said.
This is the reality for one in three adults in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 and nearly half of those 75 and older. Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition for our senior population. Even though age-related hearing loss is common, losing your hearing does not feel commonplace at all.
There are two prevalent types of age-related hearing loss or disorder. Presbycusis is the gradual loss of hearing and can be the result of many things such as changes to the inner, middle or outer ear or the auditory nerve due to aging. It can also occur as a result of loud noises over long periods, heredity, infection, illness, and some prescription medications. There is no reversal of loss associated with presbycusis. However, a patient’s life can be mitigated with treatment or amplification devices.
Tinnitus is also common in aging individuals. It is a symptom of an underlying problem (age-related hearing loss or upper respiratory infection) rather than a condition itself. It manifests itself in the form of ringing, buzzing, roaring, hissing or humming. If the onset is sudden or there is no apparent cause, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Although hearing loss is a significant concern for many older adults, the vast majority of people, live with the condition for as long as ten years before seeking treatment. Living with hearing loss has been strongly linked to loneliness, isolation, and depression.
Studies have also shown that older adults with hearing loss are at a higher risk for developing dementia, as well as a decline in cognitive abilities such as memory and concentration.
Safety can be a significant issue for the hearing impaired, particularly for those living alone. Would your loved one hear a smoke alarm in the night? Could they follow a doctor’s advice for treatment? Would they hear the doorbell if it rang or if someone attempted to break into the home? Would they hear cars honking or sirens if they were driving a car?
Recognizing the Signs of Hearing Loss
You or your loved one may have a problem hearing and not even realize it. Many seniors do not want to admit they are struggling and may be too embarrassed to talk to a doctor, family, or friends. Recognizing the signs and seeking treatment can improve the quality of life for you or your loved one. You should see a doctor if:
- You find it hard to follow a conversation when two or more people are talking.
- You often ask people to repeat themselves.
- You need to turn up the television loud enough, and others complain.
- You have trouble hearing over the telephone.
- If women and children are particularly hard to hear.
- If others seem to mumble.
How to Cope With Hearing Loss
Even when a senior learns they have a hearing problem, there may be a reluctance to seek treatment due to the mischaracterization by others of their symptoms. Seniors who experience hearing loss are sometimes perceived to be confused, uncooperative, unresponsive, or standoffish. It is easy to succumb and retreat because of these feelings.
There is also a disinclination by many older adults to wear hearing devices. Seniors may feel there is a stigma attached to using them, or they may worry they will encounter technical difficulties in using them. For many, hearing aids are too costly and out of reach.
There are ways you and your family can work together to minimize frustration, getting the most out of daily interactions. A few tips to help are below:
- Find a quiet place to talk. Reduce background noise by shutting off the tv or music.
- Face the person, speak clearly, and maintain eye contact.
- Speak a little louder, but do not shout.
- Try to speak slowly but naturally.
- Repeat yourself if necessary.
- Above all else, be patient and understanding. We all will be elderly someday!
Using Technology As A Hearing Aid
Only about 20% of seniors with hearing loss wear hearing aids. With the high costs of these devices and often little assistance from insurance companies, alternative solutions are on the rise. “Congress voted in 2017 to establish a new category of over-the-counter devices. Companies like Bose seem poised to enter the market-possibly driving innovation and technical improvements to make hearing aids more accessible to consumers.”
In the meantime, if high-cost regulated hearing aids are not an option, there are lower-priced devices at some drugstores. There are also apps on some smartphones that can amplify sounds or convert speech to text, making it easier to be part of the conversation.
Safety in the home for the hearing impaired is a concern. Devices can be installed to take the place of doorbells and smoke alarms. Strobe light smoke alarms and a flashing light for a doorbell can signal a person to respond. There are also personalized hearing devices for television and radio.
Hearing Loss Prevention
You may not be able to prevent age-related hearing loss, but you can certainly take steps to keep it from getting worse. Consult your primary care physician who can recommend strategies to help reduce the effects of hearing loss. Your doctor may also suggest you visit an audiologist who can measure hearing loss.
Hearing issues left untreated will most likely worsen with time. With advances in technology, more options for comfortable and affordable hearing devices, medication, or even surgery, communicating your concerns and seeking help can significantly enhance you or your loved one’s quality of life.
Hearing loss continues to be underrecognized and undertreated. If you or a loved one suspects hearing loss is an issue, seeking the advice of your primary care physician is recommended.