“Eh? What Did You Say? I Can’t Hear You!”
Do you hear this often from your aging parents? Do you frequently have to turn up the sound on your parents’ radio, TV, or other electronic devices? If so, your aging loved ones may be experiencing hearing loss or the inability to discriminate sounds.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can stem from any of the following:
Occupational hazards. Exposure to loud noises including music, construction equipment, guns or fire arms, truck driving, and tree trimming can contribute to hearing loss. Over an extended period of time such sounds can damage the inner ear, and once this damage occurs, it cannot be reversed.
- Ceruminosis. This involves earwax blockage in one or both ears. Once the wax is removed, hearing loss disappears unless this problem has been allowed to go on for long periods of time, in which case the ability to discriminate sounds is lost.
- Presbycusis. This condition involves gradual hearing loss related to aging and other factors. It is not reversible.
- Acoustic neroma. Individuals suffering from this condition develop a noncancerous tumor on the hearing nerve, resulting in gradual hearing loss, usually in one ear only.
- Meniere’s disease or a tumor on the hearing nerve. These conditions often cause bouts of nausea or vomiting, dizziness, and ringing in one ear with accompanying hearing loss in the same ear.
- Otitis Media. This results from a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, usually due to a cold, sinus infection, flu, allergies, or a more chronic condition resulting in temporary hearing loss in one or both ears.
- Virus or bacterial infection.
- Heart conditions or stroke.
- Head injuries.
- Certain medications.
While many doctors feel that hearing loss is mostly due to heredity or prolonged exposure to loud noises, it is a very common disability in the elderly. In fact, one in three individuals over 60 and 50% of individuals over 75 experience hearing loss. While it is nothing to be ashamed of, it can be frustrating and even dangerous. Our aging parents may find it hard to hear, understand, and follow their doctor’s advice, hear doorbells or sirens, and respond to alarms or warnings. Visiting with friends and family members becomes frustrating and less enjoyable. Hearing loss can impact normal daily and social activities.
Therefore, as soon as hearing loss is detected, seek the advice of a physician and an audiologist. The problem may not be reversed, but a physician can determine the cause. An audiologist can measure hearing (usually by using a free comprehensive auditory test), and if a hearing aid is needed, help find the right one. Wearing the right hearing aid device can stop the progression of hearing loss and help improve what is heard.
Five Simple Tips to Help Communicate Despite Hearing Loss, as Recommended by the Mayo Clinic:
- Position yourself to hear by facing the person with whom you’re having a conversation.
- Turn off background noise. It may interfere with the conversation.
- Ask others to speak clearly.
- Choose quiet settings, especially in public places or at social gatherings. Choose a place that is away from the noisy areas.
- Consider using a listening device, such as a hearing aid, a TV listening system, or a telephone amplifying device. These can help you hear better while decreasing other noises around you.