Hearing Loss in Older Adults

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Hearing loss can be challenging to deal with, particularly with older adults. Today we’re going to discuss different types of hearing loss and different ways to cope with it.

Welcome to the Senior Circle where we hope to inspire and help others by providing valuable, relevant information related to caring for an elderly loved one. Hi, my name is Dawn Neely and I’ll be your host. Thank you for joining us.

Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. But some people may not recognize or want to admit they have trouble hearing. older people who can’t hear well may become depressed or they may withdraw from others because they feel frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding what’s being said. Let’s face it, sometimes older people are mistakenly thought to be confused, unresponsive or uncooperative because they don’t hear well. It’s understanding why they might be in denial.

There are however reasons to be concerned. We know from studies that older adults with hearing loss have a greater risk of developing dementia than those with normal hearing. Cognitive abilities, including memory and concentration, decline faster in older adults with hearing loss than in older adults with normal hearing. Treating hearing problems can be important for cognitive health.

Some people may have a hearing problem and just not realize it. Some things you’ll want to look for are:

  • Are you having trouble hearing over the telephone?
  • Are you finding it hard to follow conversations when two or more people are talking?
  • Do you often ask people to repeat what they’re saying or need to turn up the TV volume so loud that others complain?
  • Is it more difficult to hear when there’s background noise?
  • Do you think that others seem to mumble?
  • Is it difficult to understand when women and children speak to you? This would be due to the higher pitched voices.

Hearing loss comes in many forms. It can range from a mild loss, in which a person misses certain high-pitched sounds to a total loss of hearing.

There are two general categories of hearing loss.

  • Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there’s damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss unfortunately tends to be permanent.
  • Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot reach the inner ear. The cause may be ear wax buildup, fluid or a punctured ear drum. The positive side to this type of loss, is that medical treatment or surgery can usually restore one’s hearing loss.

Common Causes of Hearing Loss

  • One of the most common causes of hearing loss are loud noises.  Loud music, loud mowers, snowblowers, and things of this nature can result in permanent hearing loss. We should protect ourselves by either turning things off, moving away from these loud noises, or using ear protection when we’re exposed to these things, especially for a prolonged period of time.
  • Earwax or fluid buildup in the ear can also be a problem as they block sounds from reaching the inner ear. A doctor may be able to suggest mild treatments if wax buildup is the problem.
  • A punctured eardrum can also cause hearing loss. The eardrum can be damaged by infection, pressure or putting objects in the ears, such as cotton-tip swabs. A doctor should be contacted if there’s pain or fluid draining from an ear.
  • Certain health conditions that are common in older people such as diabetes or high blood pressure can contribute to hearing loss. Viruses and bacteria, a heart condition, stroke, brain injury, or a tumor may also affect your hearing.
  • Heredity can cause hearing loss as well, but not all inherited forms of hearing loss can take place at birth. Some forms show up later in life.
  • Presbycusis or age-related hearing loss, comes on gradually as a person gets older. It seems to run in families and may occur because of changes in the inner ear and auditory nerve. Presbycusis may make it hard for a person to tolerate loud noises or hear what others are saying.
    • Age-related hearing loss usually happens in both ears, affecting them equally. The loss is gradual, so someone with this type of loss may not realize that he or she is losing some of his or her ability to hear.

Coping with Hearing Loss

There are things one can do to help coping with hearing loss. If you notice signs of hearing loss, talk to your doctor. If you have trouble hearing, you should:

  • Let people know you have hard time hearing them.
  • Ask people to face you and speak more slowly and clearly, also ask them to speak a little louder without shouting.
  • Pay attention to what is being said and to facial expressions or gestures.
  • Let the person talking know if you don’t understand what they’re saying.
  • Ask the person speaking to reword a sentence and try again.
  • Find a good location to listen, placing yourself between the speaker and the sources of noise and look for quieter places to talk.

The most important thing you can do if you think you have hearing problem, is seek professional advice. An ear, nose and throat doctor may be a good fit for you or an audiologist who can identify and measure hearing loss.

Here are some tips that you can use when talking to someone who actually has a hearing problem:

  • First and foremost, don’t shout. You will likely need to speak perhaps a little more loudly than normal, but try to speak slowly while also speaking naturally.
  • In a group, include people with hearing loss in the conversation.
  • Find a quiet place to talk, to help reduce background noise especially in restaurants and in social gatherings.
  • Stand in good lighting and use facial expressions or gestures to give clues.
  • Face the person and speak clearly. Maintain eye contact.
  • Don’t hide your mouth or eat or chew gum while speaking.
  • Repeat yourself if necessary using different words
  • Try to make sure that only one person talks at a time.
  • Be patient. Stay positive and relaxed.
  • Ask how you can help.

There are many times devices that could assist with hearing. A hearing aid is something that may be suggested. An audiologist would help with determining the right one and helping to understand how to use it.

There are assistive devices, mobile apps, alerting devices, and cochlear implants that can help some people with hearing loss. Cochlear implants are electronic devices for those with severe hearing loss and they don’t work for all types of hearing loss. Alert systems can work with doorbells, smoke detectors and alarm clocks to send you visual signals or vibrations. For example a flashing light can let you know that someone’s at the door or a phone is ringing. Some people rely on the vibration setting on their cell phones to alert them to calls.

A very important thing to do is involve your doctor if you feel that you’re experiencing hearing loss in order to determine what is best for you. To learn more about hearing loss, you can also reach out to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

If you have any questions for us, please don’t hesitate to contact Seniors Helping Seniors at 248-969-4000. We would be happy to help in any way we can.

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