Hearing Loss and Aging
About one-third of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing problems. About half the people who are 85 and older have hearing loss. Whether a hearing loss is small or large, it is a serious concern. If it is left untreated, the problems may go worse.
Sometimes hearing problems can make you feel embarrassed, upset, and lonely. If you have trouble hearing, start treating it by seeing the doctor. Depending on the type and extent of your hearing loss, there are many treatment choices that may help.
How to Know if there is a Hearing Loss?
Consult the doctor, if you have the following :
- Have trouble hearing over the telephone,
- Find it hard to follow conversations when two or more people are talking,
- Need to turn up the TV volume so loud that others complain,
- Have a problem hearing because of background noise,
- Sense that others seem to mumble, or
- Canít understand when women and children speak to you.
If you have trouble hearing, see your doctor. The doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist (oh-toh-layr-ehn-GOL-luh-jist), a doctor who specializes in the ear, nose, and throat. The otolaryngologist will take a medical history, ask if other family members have hearing problems, do a thorough exam, and suggest any needed tests. You may be referred to an audiologist. Audiologists are health care professionals trained to measure hearing. The audiologist will use an audiometer to test your ability to hear sounds of different pitch and loudness. These tests are painless. Audiologists can help if you need a hearing aid. They can help select the best hearing aid for you and help you learn to get the most from it.
There are many different causes, including the aging process, ear wax buildup, exposure to very loud noises over a long period of time, viral or bacterial infections, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors, certain medicines, and heredity.
Different Types of Hearing Loss
Presbycusis (prez-bee-KYOO-sis) is age-related hearing loss. It becomes more common in people as they get older. People with this kind of hearing loss may have a hard time hearing what others are saying or may be unable to stand loud sounds. The decline is slow. Just as hair turns gray at different rates, presbycusis can develop at different rates.
It can be caused by sensorineural (sen-soh-ree-NOO-ruhl) hearing loss. This type of hearing loss results from damage to parts of the inner ear, the auditory nerve, or hearing pathways in the brain. Presbycusis may be caused by aging, loud noise, heredity, head injury, infection, illness, certain prescription drugs, and circulation problems such as high blood pressure. The degree of hearing loss varies from person to person. Also, a person can have a different amount of hearing loss in each ear.
Tinnitus (tih-NIE-tuhs) accompanies many forms of hearing loss, including those that sometimes come with aging. People with tinnitus may hear a ringing, roaring, or some other noise inside their ears. Tinnitus may be caused by loud noise, hearing loss, certain medicines, and other health problems, such as allergies and problems in the heart and blood vessels. Often it is unclear why the ringing happens. Tinnitus can come and go, it can stop completely, or it can stay. Some medicines may help ease the problem. Wearing a hearing aid makes it easier for some people to hear the sounds they need to hear by making them louder. Maskers, small devices that use sound to make tinnitus less noticeable, help other people. Music also can be soothing and can sometimes mask the sounds caused by the condition. It also helps to avoid things that might make tinnitus worse, like smoking, alcohol, and loud noises.
Conductive hearing loss happens when something blocks the sounds that are carried from the eardrum (tympanic membrane) to the inner ear. Ear wax buildup, fluid in the middle ear, abnormal bone growth, a punctured eardrum, or a middle ear infection can cause this type of hearing loss.
Here are some tips you can use when talking with someone who has a hearing problem:
What Can I Do if I Have Trouble Hearing?
- Face the person and talk clearly.
- Speak at a reasonable speed; do not hide your mouth, eat, or chew gum.
- Stand in good lighting and reduce background noises.
- Use facial expressions or gestures to give useful clues.
- Repeat yourself if necessary, using different words.
- Include the hearing-impaired person when talking. Talk with the person, not about the person, when you are with others. This helps keep the hearing-impaired person from feeling alone and excluded.
- Be patient; stay positive and relaxed.
- Ask how you can help
Let people know that you have trouble hearing.
Ask people to face you, and to speak more slowly and clearly; also ask them to speak without shouting.
Pay attention to what is being said and to facial expressions or gestures.
Let the person talking know if you do not understand.
Ask people to reword a sentence and try again.
What Devices or Treatments Can Help?
Some common solutions include:
Hearing aids. These are small devices you wear in or behind your ear. Hearing aids can help some kinds of hearing loss by making sounds louder. There are many kinds of hearing aids. An audiologist can help fit you with the hearing aid that will work best for you.
You may need to have several fittings of your hearing aid, and you will need to get directions on how to use it. Hearing aids use batteries, which you will need to change on a regular basis. They also may need repairs from time to time. Buy a hearing aid that has only
the features you need.
Assistive/Adaptive Devices. There are many products that can help you live well with less-than-perfect hearing. The list below includes some examples of the many choices:
Cochlear implants. If your deafness is severe, a doctor may suggest cochlear implants. In this surgery, the doctor puts a small electronic device under the skin behind the ear. The device sends the message past the non-working part of the inner ear and on to the brain. This process helps some people hear. These implants are not helpful for all types of deafness or hearing loss.
- Telephone amplifying devices range from a special type of telephone receiver that makes sounds louder to special phones that work with hearing aids.
- TV and radio listening systems can be used with or without hearing aids. You do not have to turn the volume up high.
- Assistive listening devices are available in some public places such as auditoriums, movie theaters, churches, synagogues, and meeting places.
- Alerts such as doorbells, smoke detectors, and alarm clocks can give you a signal that you can see or a vibration that you can feel. For example, a flashing light could let you know someone is at the door or that the phone is ringing.