Age-related hearing loss or presbycusis is a common problem for older adults. Approximately a third of seniors aged 65 to 74 experience some type of hearing loss. Those statistics increase to half of the seniors over the age of 75. Elderly hearing loss can have negative consequences for their overall mental health and quality of life. Fortunately, understanding the major hearing loss problems, symptoms, and impacts can give them the information they need to spur them to see a doctor early and accommodate any hearing changes with less disruption to their daily lives.
1. What are the different types of hearing problems?
Hearing loss stems from two main types of hearing loss: sensorineural and conductive. There are other types of hearing problems as well. Below is a list of the different types.
- Sensorineural: Sensorineural hearing problems stem from irrevertable damage to the inner ear or nerves.
- Conductive: Conductive hearing problems come from blockages in the inner ear and may result in correction from appropriate treatments.
- Sudden onset: Sudden onset loss of hearing is an urgent medical condition due to sensorieneural problems and occurs suddenly or over the span of a few days.
- Presbycusis: Presbycusis is a natural part of the aging process in which hearing loss occurs due to changes in the inner ear over time.
- Tinnitis:Tinnitis occurs as a ringing, buzzing or other soft or loud persistent noise in the ear. Tinnitus is usually due to other medical conditions and often temporary.
FAQ: What is the difference between hearing loss and hearing impairment?
While the term “hearing impairment” may sound more severe, the terms “hearling loss” and “hearing impairment” are synonyms. They refer to the same phenomenon of a weakened state of hearing. This description can include anything from mild hearing loss to deafness.
2. What are the signs of hearing loss in elderly?
Since the effects of hearing loss in older adults are substantial, it is important to understand the signs of hearing loss as people age. Here are some of the key symptoms of hearing loss that should alert the elderly or their caregivers to see the doctor:
- Hearing distorted sounds;
- Difficulty distinguishing between primary speech and background noise;
- Having to listen to electronic devices at increasing volumes;
- Asking people to clarify their speech often; and,
- Willingly isolating themselves from social situations.
3. What is the impact of hearing loss on quality of life in older adults?
Hearing loss impacts the quality of life that seniors have due to the loss of the ability to communicate clearly. In some cases, hearing loss can be a part of other disorders, which adds to this impact. Here are some of the main ways in which hearing loss impacts the quality of life of older adults.
- Social isolation: When seniors do not hear well, they can withdraw from social activities and interaction. Since seniors already face problems with social isolation, this can make their ability to remain an active part of their communities even more difficult. It can also lead to depression.
- Frustration and irritability: Hearing loss in seniors creates difficulty in understanding everyday conversations. Constantly having to ask others to slow down or speak louder can cause frustration and irritability in seniors. This impacts their mood and overall enjoyment of their life.
- Lack of independence: If seniors have substantial hearing loss, it can make it difficult to engage in everyday activities that require communication. Examples can include going to the grocery store, the bank, or the doctor’s office. Seniors in these instances may need assistance to accomplish certain tasks or to have the communication abilities to even manage their finances.
- Lack of safety: Hearing impairment in seniors can put them at risk for certain safety concerns. They may not have the ability to hear a smoke alarm, an intruder, a severe weather notification, or a glass breaking in another room putting them in danger of bodily harm.
4. Why do older adults lose their hearing?
The exact root of what causes hearing loss with age can come from multiple sources. It is generally the product of lifestyle choices throughout their lives and a natural part of the aging process. These are some of the main causes of hearing loss in older adults.
- High volume noises: A lifetime of loud noises from music, televisions, and even mechanical equipment causes damage to the inner ear. Over time, this results in hearing loss.
- Earwax buildup: The buildup of earwax is normal for people, but some produce more earwax than others. This can especially be a problem as people age and contribute to hearing loss in the elderly.
- Comorbidities: Diseases common in the elderly, such as diabetes, heart problems, and high blood pressure, can contribute to hearing loss.
- Medication use: Certain medications that seniors commonly use to treat disorders like cancer or cardiovascular issues can also result in hearing loss, especially tinnitus.
- Injury: An accident or illness that cause a puncture of the ear drum can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, depending on the injury.
- Aging: As people age, they may experience natural changes in their inner or middle ear or nerves that leads to hearing loss without a single or primary other cause.
- Genetics: Genetics determine so many things about biological outcomes. Genetics also play a role in hearing loss or strong hearing or seniors.
5. What are the treatment options for hearing loss in elderly?
The exact treatment option for hearing loss in the elderly depends on the condition, cause, and a host of other factors. Here are some treatments that doctors may consider to combat hearing loss:
- Earwax removal;
- Mechanical aids;
- Surgery for impacted parts of the ear or injuries; and,
- Hearing device implants.
Hearing aids vs. Hearing amplifiers (PSAP) vs. Air pods: How to Choose?
For seniors looking for assistive devices for hearing, there are many options. These descriptions can help older adults understand what they need.
Hearing aids are the traditional assistive device for hearing loss. While these devices often work very well, they are expensive. Hearing aids range from $2,000 to $6,000, and people typically have to pay out-of-pocket. They may also work well for people with more substantial hearing loss than those with early-onset hearing loss. Hearing aids can also help distinguish between different types of noises.
Hearing amplifiers are a cheaper option to hearing aids, but they may not work as well as hearing aids. Unlike hearing aids, hearing amplifiers make it easier to hear all sounds, not just the ones the ear would naturally pull into focus. Not all hearing amplifiers are the same. Some do not have any scientific studies or approvals to back up their claims. Finding amplifiers with FDA approval work better. The latter does have a greater expense but is still cheaper than hearing aids.
Certain versions of Air Pods work in conjunction with an app, Conversation Boost, to hone in and amplify the voices of people speaking to the wearer. This does not just work with people on the phone but anytime someone speaks, so long as the recipient wears the Air Pods with the settings for it on. The use of Air Pods is a discrete way to amplify the sounds of human voices. It can also be a device that people already own, which makes the primary cost the time to set up the app.
6. How to improve hearing power in old age?
For many hearing loss conditions, there are no simple ways to control the ability to hear. Treatments from a doctor are the best courses of action to pursue. For those looking to stave off hearing loss, these tips may help.
- Professional ear cleaning: For those with problems with earwax buildup, professional ear cleaning can prevent or revert hearing loss due to this issue.
- Volume control: Avoiding the urge to increase the volume on devices or use headphones at loud volumes or for extended periods can help prevent problems with aging ears.
- Regual hearing exams: One of the best ways to avoid hearing loss is to monitor hearing so that interventions can occur as early as possible. Regular hearing exams can help seniors maintain their hearing power by finding and treating issues before they get out of control.
Importance of Ear Health in Older Adult Care
Maintaining proper ear health in older adults is crucial for maintaining their quality of life. Strong hearing can help keep seniors engaged and active. Since seniors are at such a high risk for hearing loss, it is important to make sure that they have access to exams and treatments. Regular ear hygiene can go a long way in maintaining quality ear health. As people age, they may need assistance in monitoring and treating hearing problems.
7. How to Care for Seniors with Hearing Loss?
For seniors that need assistance in their daily lives due to hearing loss or other conditions, it can be difficult for caregivers with or without professional training to know how to care for seniors with hearing loss. These are some tips to get started.
- Monitoring of symptoms: One of the biggest issues, especially for those in long-term care facilities without one-on-one care, is the lack of attention to hearing loss symptoms. Understanding and identifying symptoms to note for doctor appointments can help seniors even before they realize they have a hearing problem.
- Companion care: Since seniors experiencing companion care also often experience social isolation, companion care can help relieve this for seniors. Companion care involves the use of a companion caregiver to spend time with someone, engage in conversation, participate in hobbies, or more. They can also facilitate social activities when someone experiences hearing loss.
- Aiding with assistive devices: Seniors who use assistive devices, such as hearing aids and amplifiers, may need help using those devices or with upkeep. Caregivers should monitor their use and quality and offer support or know how to engage with those who may offer technical support.
How to communicate with elderly with hearing loss?
Communicating with seniors who have difficulties with hearing loss presents unique challenges. If they use an assistive hearing device, this can make communication with them much easier. Whether they do or not, these are some tips to help people communicate with seniors with hearing loss.
- Slow down speech and speak clearly.
- While in conversation, people speaking to someone with hearing loss should keep their mouth turned toward them so that they can match hearing while reading lips.
- Learning and using sign language along with speaking may make it easier for those with substantial hearing loss.
- Someone with hearing loss in only one ear can benefit from improved communication by the conservation partner moving to the side of the better hearing ear.
- Written forms of communication may be easier than verbal forms of communication. People should consider alternative forms of communication when possible.
Does Medicaid pay for hearing aids for the elderly?
Medicare does not typically pay for hearing aids for seniors. Medicare Advantage may provide some support.
Causes of hearing voices in the elderly?
While a distortion of voices can be a symptom of hearing loss, hearing voices that do not exist in reality are not an issue of hearing loss. Instead, this points to serious mental health, a neorological condition, such as dementia, or an effect of medications. Anyone hearing voices should consult a doctor.
Can hearing loss affect eyesight?
While people can experience the loss of both eyesight and hearing, one does not cause the other. Certain conditions can lead to the loss of eyesight and hearing. Otherwise, dual sensory loss occurs due to differing conditions.
9. Final Thoughts
Hearing loss is a common problem in the senior population that can have major impacts on their quality of life. Some seniors may need additional support in order to live on their own with the advent of hearing loss. Understanding more about these conditions can help seniors and their families make the best decisions about their care.