Aging brings with it many health issues, some which cannot be ignored though many aging individuals do try to ignore them. An issue that is typically brushed under a rug or otherwise compensated for is hearing loss.
For many, they feel the inability to hear clearly won’t really interfere with their lives because they can ask others to speak louder, turn up the volume on the television or simply not get involved in conversations. Hearing loss can lead to isolation and depression if not addressed.
There are many reasons for loss of hearing, from an ear infection to exposure to loud noises in the workplace for extended periods of time. Studies show that close to 15% of the population between the ages of 45 and 64 suffer some degree of hearing loss. Additionally one in three people over the 65 years or older have some degree of hearing loss.
Why does this situation go untreated? The reasons are varied but may include:
- Fear of admitting it and therefore admitting you are “old”
- Unfavorable connections between hearing loss and being disabled
- Denying that the hearing loss is serious
- Not understanding that in some cases hearing loss can be kept from worsening if early treatment is sought
There are three basic types of hearing loss: conductive (CHL) , sensorineural (SNHL) and mixed, which is a combination of both. Hearing loss associated with CHL is typically a “mechanical” issue meaning that the outer or middle ear doesn’t vibrate in response to sound waves. This could be caused by fluid in the ear from an infection, build up of ear wax or a hole in the ear drum. Most of these situations are treatable and hearing loss could either be restored or prevented from worsening.
The most common type of hearing loss is SNHL and it is the result of exposure to noise, medication or age among other causes. Consider the noise that surrounds us every day, televisions, airplanes, lawnmowers, household appliances, and you can see that it’s hard to escape the environmental issues that may prey on our hearing. It may not be feasible to shut ourselves away from the daily noises that surround us but limiting exposure can help. Consider too, though that excessive noise can come in a quick burst such as being exposed to gunfire (120 decibels) or sounds at 85 decibels or higher for long periods of time.
Where do typical sounds fall on the decibel range?
- Jet engine
- The siren of an ambulance
- A rock concert
- A nail gun
The National Institutes of Health warn that one minute of exposure to these noises can result in permanent hearing loss.
- Lawn mower
- Garbage truck
Compare these noises to a conversation in a “normal speaking tone” that weighs in at 60 decibels and you can see the difference.
How can caregivers help seniors suffering hearing loss?
If you suspect the senior in your life is suffering hearing loss, the first step is to make an appointment with their doctor for a hearing test. In up to 90% of the cases, hearing loss caused by aging or excessive noise can be improved through the use of a hearing aid. Surgical or medical treatments may be able to improve hearing lost through CHL.
What are the options?
There are several hearing aids on the market to help address ths problem including:
- Bluetooth technology, the same type used for cellular telephones can connect from the hearing aid to a cell phone or television for improved hearing
- A directional microphone can be used to enhance hearing in environments with loud ambient noise
- Telecoil technology is embedded in a hearing aid that prevents feedback, especially when you’re on the phone
Hearing aids today are comfortable and discreet and allow for a natural-sounding hearing experience. They are also available today for those suffering from tinnitus, a ringing in the ears.
Addressing hearing loss is crucial if the seniors in your life are determined to age in place.