When to Seek Medical Advice
Hearing loss can occur for many reasons, and aging certainly isn’t the only one of them. However, hearing loss is most common in adults over the age of 60 and can greatly impact someone’s quality of life. Read on to learn more about hearing loss in older adults, what to do if you’re experiencing it, and how you can be mindful around those who struggle with it.
By Anna Hill
Causes of Hearing Loss
Like many other aspects of your health, hearing is often something that’s incredibly easy to take for granted until you no longer have it. Everyone knows the struggle of muffled sound thanks to a clogged ear – so imagine that frustration, but it’s permanent. Luckily, there are more resources than ever for those with hearing loss, including older adults.
To fully understand hearing loss, it’s important to understand the major causes of it. Generally, hearing loss is caused by one or more of the following reasons:
1. Strong noises.
Many loud noises can damage your hearing, including work-related sounds that might accompany construction sites, recreation noises such as attending loud concerts, or sounds that might come from being in the military, such as repeated exposure to artillery fire.
2. Ear infections.
Unfortunately, some people are predisposed to middle or outer ear infections, both of which can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss.
3. Inner ear problems.
Trouble with inner ear conditions such as severe dizziness or vertigo can also lead to hearing loss.
For some, problems with hearing loss is something that runs in the family.
“Note that ‘old age’ is not mentioned here specifically,” says Cheryl Ward, a hearing instrument specialist with Audiology Services of Chattanooga. “However, as we age, our ears do begin to weaken. In our sixth decade and after, we are much more likely to experience weakness in the higher frequencies, which reduces the clearness of flowing speech.” Anyone who’s experienced any of the four causes listed previously increases their risk of hearing loss both immediately and further down the road. “Furthermore, conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can also contribute to age-related hearing loss,” adds Cody Harvey, the executive director of Morning Pointe of Chattanooga.
When It’s Time to Seek Medical Advice
Several clues can indicate that it’s time to go in for a hearing exam and review your options with a professional. If you find yourself frequently asking for people to repeat what they’ve just said or if you struggle to fully understand verbal communication in somewhat noisy situations such as in the car or a busy restaurant, there’s a chance you’re experiencing some level of hearing loss. Other signs might include frequently being told by others that your television’s volume is turned up too high, or if there are small sounds that others notice that you regularly do not, such as cell phone alerts, microwaves beeping, or squeaky floors or door hinges. “If you notice yourself experiencing any, some, or all of these signs, it’s important to have an exam done by a hearing professional or an ENT physician,” says Ward. “From there, you’ll be able to discuss your options.”
Reviewing Your Options
If hearing loss consistently impacts your daily life, hearing aids will likely be your best treatment option. Luckily, like most technology, hearing aids have come a long way over the years, and you can customize your selection based on your individual needs and preferences. If a discreet appearance is a priority, there are great options for you, and if compatibility with your electronic devices is at the top of your wish list, you’ll have plenty of options as well. “There are ways to accommodate the need to listen to particular things privately, such as phone calls, television by wireless earphones, and wireless phones for music videos,” explains Ward.
Depending on the severity of your hearing loss, you might have other options – particularly if it progresses to severe hearing loss. “Cochlear implants are a surgically inserted device that assists in increasing the sense of sound in the inner ear,” Harvey says. However, this option is typically reserved for those who have a significant percentage of hearing loss or are approaching deafness. “Choosing what option is best for you is decided after seeking advice from your healthcare provider,” Harvey adds.
How to Support Older Adults With Hearing Loss
If an older family member or another adult you know is having difficulty with their hearing, there are many ways for you to support them. For example, if an important discussion is taking place, be sure to minimize distractions such as the TV and speak clearly with them face-to-face. “Avoid trying to talk to them from a distance, and try to make an effort to get their attention before you begin speaking,” adds Ward. Many people with hearing loss rely on lip-reading and facial expressions to aid in their understanding, so be sure to face them while speaking and try not to cover your mouth or face as you talk.
Though it can be easy to forget, it’s important to protect your hearing. “Prevention is key when it comes to avoiding hearing loss,” emphasizes Harvey. If you’re going to mow the lawn, fire a weapon, or go to a race or concert, always bring your earplugs.