Healthy Aging: Hearing Loss
What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss is a sudden or slow decrease in how well you can hear. Older adults are often affected by this condition. About one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss and almost half of those above 75 have a hard time hearing.
Do I have a hearing problem?
You may have a hearing problem if you are having trouble understanding words, responding to warnings, and hearing doorbells and alarms. Hearing problems can make it hard to have meaningful conversations with friends and family. This can make a person feel frustrated, embarrassed and can affect their safety.
How can I check if I am having a hearing problem?
If you answer "yes" to three or more of these questions, you could have a hearing problem and should get your hearing checked by a health care provider:
- • Do you sometimes feel embarrassed when you meet new people because you struggle to hear?
- • Do you feel frustrated when talking to members of your family because it is hard to hear them?
- • Do you have difficulty hearing when someone speaks in a whisper?
- • Do you feel restricted or limited by a hearing problem?
- • Do you have difficulty hearing when visiting friends, relatives, or neighbors?
- • Does a hearing problem cause you to attend religious services less often than you would like?
- • Does a hearing problem cause you to argue with family members?
- • Do you have trouble hearing the TV or radio at levels that are loud enough for others?
- • Do you feel that any difficulty with your hearing limits your personal or social life?
- • Do you have trouble hearing family or friends when you are together in a restaurant?
Who should I see if I am having trouble hearing?
Having trouble hearing is a serious problem. If you think you are having trouble hearing you should see one of the following health care providers to get your hearing checked:
- • Primary care provider: can provide a routine hearing test to check for hearing loss
- • Otolaryngologist: a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ear, nose, and throat
- • Audiologist: a provider who has training in figuring out what kind and what level of hearing loss you have and recommending treatment options
- • Hearing aid specialist: a professional who evaluates people with hearing problems and helps them choose a hearing aid
Why am I losing my hearing?
Hearing loss can happen at any age and for various reasons. Many people lose their hearing slowly as they age. Age-related hearing loss is known as presbycusis. Doctors do not know why presbycusis affects some people more than others, but it seems to run in families.
You can also have hearing loss as you age if you are exposed to loud noise, known as noise-induced hearing loss. People that work in jobs that expose them to loud noise can even have hearing problems in their younger and middle years.
Infections caused by viruses and bacteria can also lead to hearing loss. Other health problems like heart disease or stroke, head injuries, tumors, and certain medicines can also affect a person’s hearing.
What treatments and devices can help?
These are some hearing devices and aids that can help with hearing loss:
- • Hearing aids: electronic hearing aids you wear in or behind your ear to make sounds louder.
- • Cochlear implants: small electronic devices attached to the inner ear by surgery that help deaf or hard-of-hearing people have a sense of sound.
- • Assistive listening devices: devices that make sounds louder like a telephone, cellphone, smart phone or tablet "apps," and speaker systems.
- • Lip reading or speech reading: method of paying close attention to a person’s mouth and body when they talk to follow conversations.
Can my friends and family help me?
Yes. You and your family can work together to make hearing easier. You can tell your friends and family about your hearing loss so they can do the following things to help you:
- • face you when they talk so that you can see their face and mouth
- • speak louder and more clearly, but not shout
- • turn off any devices that are making loud sounds in the background if they are not being used
- • keep in mind that background noise can make hearing harder
Having to watch people as they talk and asking people to speak louder and more clearly can be frustrating. It can take some time for you to get used to it, but hearing better is worth the effort.
Hearing Loss and Older Adults. (2017). National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Retrieved from: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing-loss-older-adults