Hearing loss in the elderly is common, with more than half of seniors aged 75 and older having some form of the condition. It happens for many reasons, but fortunately, if hearing loss is identified early, the problem can be treated by a physician.
Read our tips for caregivers on how to prevent and treat hearing loss in the elderly.
Hearing Loss in the Elderly
Hearing loss is one of the top three chronic health conditions in the elderly. It can be caused by damage to the auditory nerve or inner ear, or by sound waves not being able to reach the inner ear. When sound waves can’t reach the inner ear there may be earwax buildup, fluid, infection or a punctured eardrum. These conditions are usually diagnosed and treated by a doctor, leading to the return of clear hearing. Damage to the auditory nerve or inner ear is usually permanent, however.
A lifetime of exposure to everyday conversations and loud noises can wear down the hairs or nerve cells in the ear that transmit the soundwaves to the brain. Once these little hairs are damaged, the sounds don’t come through as clearly anymore.
Since our sense of hearing is constantly active, it is no wonder that after 75 years there is a lot of wear and tear!
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
It is easier to recognize hearing loss in somebody else than it is to realize that you are the one having trouble hearing.
Symptoms of hearing loss can be put into three categories:
1. Trouble hearing conversations.
Someone with hearing loss may often ask people to repeat what is being said. If there are two or more people talking, they may miss much of the conversation. If somebody is moving or turns their head while talking, they may not be heard. The higher pitch voices of children and women are often the hardest to hear.
2. Trouble hearing devices.
Hearing loss can be recognized when a person is either not hearing electronic noises like doorbells or phones or is turning up the volume so loud that others find it uncomfortable. For example, blaring music or TV volume.
3. Trouble in social situations.
You might notice a look of confusion or uncertainty in your parent or senior loved one during conversations in busy settings. Heavy background noise can make it difficult to hear one voice. Your loved one may start avoiding social gatherings because it is so awkward trying to understand people.
If there is ever a sudden hearing loss, this is considered a medical emergency and needs to be assessed by a physician immediately.
When Hearing Loss Affects the Elderly
Hearing loss can lead to depression and isolation with the loss of connected relationships.
When parents or senior loved ones are cut off from regular conversations, there are higher rates of cognitive decline and dementia. Your loved one may also experience a loss in concentration and memory as a result of the hearing loss. By helping to treat hearing loss, you can keep your loved one engaged and interested in the world.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports there is no known way to prevent the normal wear and tear that leads to hearing loss. It is recommended to protect your ears from any loud or prolonged noises by wearing ear plugs or ear muffs.
Any noise that requires you to raise your voice to be heard should be limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends regular quiet time each day. This allows for hearing recovery after being exposed to a high level of noise.
Ways to Prevent and Treat Hearing Loss in the Elderly
The National Institute of Aging recommends that all hearing problems be assessed by a doctor.
Hearing aids are the most common device used to improve hearing loss. Hearing aids can be purchased over the counter, but to get the best fit, you may need to be assessed and fitted by a hearing aid practitioner. Hearing aids are no longer the large, ugly pieces of plastic that squeal at random times. Some hearing aids can be worn completely inside the ear canal and are almost invisible to others. Other hearing aids can be connected directly to your cell phone for better phone conversations.
If a parent or senior loved one has hearing loss, it is important to change how you communicate with them so you don’t miss out on conversations.
Here are five tips to better conversations with hearing loss:
1. Be honest.
Let people know that your loved one has difficulty hearing and most people will try to help by speaking more clearly.
2. Keep it light.
Hearing loss is frustrating, but keeping a sense of humor about the misheard words and misunderstandings can help you continue to enjoy a positive relationship with a parent or senior loved one.
3. Speak clearly.
The ability to hear higher pitches is often lost first. Instead of talking louder, try lowering the tone of your voice and slow your speech slightly. Instead of repeating a sentence, use different words to convey your meaning.
4. Talk face to face.
Look at the person when you are talking, limit background noises and focus on the conversation.
5. Use technology.
If you and your loved one are tech-savvy, consider sending emails or texts to communicate in crowded or loud settings.
Are you a caregiver who is working on preventing or treating hearing loss in the elderly? What suggestions do you have for other caregivers? We would like to hear your tips in the comments below.