Hearing loss is defined as the diminishment or loss of hearing in one or both ears. This loss may occur gradually over a long period of time or may happen suddenly. Hearing loss is a problem that commonly affects the elderly. Studies have shown that one third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 struggle with hearing loss. For those 75 and older, hearing loss affects at least half of the elderly population.
Types of Hearing Loss in the Elderly
The type of hearing loss that most commonly affects the elderly is called presbycusis. This hearing loss is caused by changes to the inner ear, auditory nerve, middle ear, or outer ear that occur gradually as a person ages. In addition to aging, other risk factors for presbycusis include hereditary factors, exposure to loud noise, head injury, certain infections and illnesses, some prescription drugs, circulation problems, and high blood pressure.
Another condition that affects the hearing of the elderly is tinnitus. People with tinnitus hear a ringing or buzzing sound in one or both ears. This sound may be loud or soft and may come and go. Tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom of another problem. It may be the result of a minor problem, such as lodged ear wax, or the sign of a more serious condition.
Signs of Hearing Loss
While determining whether or not you have hearing loss may seem as simple as asking yourself whether or not you can hear, it is actually more complex than that. The human body and brain is incredibly proficient at adapting to overcome challenges. Especially when the hearing loss occurs gradually, it is easy to grow accustomed to not hearing as well and fail to realize that there is a problem at all. Whether evaluating yourself or an elderly relative for hearing loss, here are the signs you should look for:
- Difficulty hearing when having a conversation on the telephone (due to the lack of visual references, such as facial expressions and lip movements, to help fill in the gaps)
- Difficulty hearing others speaking in a crowded, loud setting, such as a busy restaurant
- Needing to increase the volume levels on electronic devices (television, radio, mp3 player, etc.) or having others complain that you have the volume set too high
- Feeling as though other people mumble frequently when they are speaking to you
- Struggling to understand when women and children speak to you (due to their higher pitch frequencies, they are often harder to hear)
- Feeling as though you are unable to keep up in a group conversation
If you are concerned about hearing loss, it is always important to seek appropriate medical treatment. Left untreated, hearing loss may continue to progress, as well as lead to other health problems. There are many solutions to help with hearing loss, including hearing aids, medication, and surgery. The earlier you seek treatment, the better chance you will have to treat and manage your hearing loss.