Hearing loss in older adults is a common concern. Age-related hearing loss affects approximately one in three adults ages 65 to 74, according to the National Institutes of Health. Nearly half of those ages 75 and older have some hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss can have serious consequences. Seniors with hearing loss can misunderstand or not hear a doctor’s advice, may not respond to warnings, or may fail to hear doorbells, phone calls and smoke alarms. Loss of hearing may also isolate seniors, making it hard to enjoy times with family and friends.
Find out what you should know about hearing loss in older adults, how it affects overall health, and how caregivers can help those who have trouble hearing.
Signs of Hearing Loss in Older Adults
Some people may have hearing loss without realizing it, instead thinking that people are not talking clearly enough or that the TV is too soft.
Here are some signs that may indicate hearing loss:
- Asking people to repeat what they’re saying
- Failing to hear when children or women are speaking to you
- Feeling background noise is drowning out voices
- Finding it hard to follow conversations when more than one person is speaking
- Having trouble hearing a telephone conversation
- Needing to turn up the volume on the TV, enough so that people complain
- Thinking that other people are mumbling
For caregivers, they may think that their loved ones are confused, uncooperative or unresponsive, when in fact they don’t hear well.
How Hearing May Affect Senior Health
A study by the NIH shows that seniors with hearing loss have a greater chance of developing dementia, although not everybody will be diagnosed with it. However, hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults are connected, causing problems with memory and concentration.
>> Read “Detecting Alzheimer’s Symptoms & Stages”
Types of Hearing Loss
There are many levels and types of hearing loss. Hearing loss may range from mild, which can interfere with high-pitched sounds like the voices of children and women, to profound, when only very loud sounds can be heard.
Here are some specific types of hearing loss that affect seniors.
- Age-related hearing loss – This loss is called presbycusis. This is a gradual loss of hearing, usually runs in families and can occur because of changes in the inner ear or auditory nerve. People with this type of loss may not realize they are losing their hearing.
- Sudden hearing loss – Sudden deafness can happen all at once or over a period of a few days. This is a medical emergency, and seniors suffering such a sudden loss should visit a doctor immediately.
- Tinnitus – This hearing loss is common in older people. It primarily is described as a ringing in the ears, but can also sound like buzzing, clicking, hissing or roaring. It can also come and go, in one or both ears, and can be loud or soft. Tinnitus can be a sign of other health problems, so a follow-up with a doctor is essential.
Causes of Hearing Loss
There are a number of ways someone may lose some hearing. Here is what causes hearing loss in older adults.
- Health conditions – Diabetes or high blood pressure can contribute to hearing loss in seniors. Other causes, like infection, injury, heart condition or stroke, may be to blame.
- Heredity – Some causes show up at birth, but some become apparent later in life, such as structural defects.
- Loud noises – This is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, from industrial equipment to loud music.
- Medications – Some drugs used to treat cancer or heart diseases are ototoxic, which means they may damage the inner ear, sometimes permanently.
- Physical causes – This can include earwax, fluid or a punctured eardrum.
Prevention of Hearing Loss
Age-related hearing loss is inevitable at some level, but there are things you can do to prevent the hearing loss from worsening.
- Avoid loud sounds
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Use ear protection
You should also alert your health professional of any changes in hearing or if new medications cause hearing problems.
Treatment of Hearing Loss
It’s important to address hearing problems so the loss doesn’t get worse. You should see a doctor to assess any hearing loss. You should start with your primary care physician, who may be able to assess changes, will have a full record of your medications and can refer you to a specialist.
- Audiologist – These health professionals identify and measure the degree and type of hearing loss. They may also fit hearing aids.
- Otolaryngologist – This doctor specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ear, nose, throat, and neck. They’re sometimes called an ENT.
If you have correctable hearing loss, your options may include:
- Assisted listening devices – There are cellphone gadgets or apps that can help amplify sounds. Closed-circuit systems in theaters, auditoriums and other public spaces can help, too.
- Bone-anchored hearing systems – These bypass the middle ear and convert sounds to vibrations that are sent through your skull bone to your inner ear.
- Cochlear implants – These are small electronic devices surgically implanted in the inner ear. They’re meant for those with profound or severe hearing loss.
- Hearing aids – Worn behind or in your ear, they can amplify sounds. Hearing aids may or may not be covered by insurance, but a new generation of over-the-counter hearing aids are on the way.
How To Cope With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can be embarrassing, but it doesn’t have to be. People are usually all too eager to help if you let them know. Here are ways to ask for help, and how you can help somebody who has hearing loss.
What You Should Tell People About Your Hearing Loss
Let people know you have some difficulty hearing, and then:
- Ask them to face you and speak slowly and clearly.
- Have them talk to you in a quieter place.
- Let the person know if you do not understand what they are saying.
- Request that they reword a sentence if you’re having difficulty.
- Tell them to speak up a bit but not yell.
How You Can Help Somebody With Hearing Loss
If you’re talking to someone who has hearing loss, this is what you can do to help them:
- Be patient, stay positive and relax.
- Don’t hide your mouth, chew gum or eat while speaking.
- Face the person and maintain eye contact while you speak clearly.
- Find a quiet place to talk to help reduce background noise.
- Include people with hearing loss in your group conversations.
- Speak more loudly than normal, but don’t shout. Speak slowly but naturally.
Hearing loss doesn’t have to be an end to gathering with other people and enjoying their company.
Download The Complete Guide to Senior Health and Wellness
As people grow older, their health and wellness needs change. Read our eBook, "The Complete Guide to Health & Wellness for Seniors" for everything you need to know about staying healthy and happy as we age.Download the Guide
Find Comfort at Senior Lifestyle Communities
Senior Lifestyle communities make sure your mind and body stay healthy. From a schedule of stimulating activities to keep you engaged to exercise and fitness programs to keep you trim and energized, we help you live a carefree lifestyle.