Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions in older adults, with nearly one in two people aged 75 and older affected.
Since it typically happens gradually, some seniors don’t notice their hearing getting worse. Others accept it as an inevitable part of aging. However, hearing loss can seriously impair your senior parent’s communication ability.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to.
Addressing hearing loss has been shown to improve seniors’ quality of life. Surveys show that hearing aid users wait, on average, ten years before getting help for hearing loss. Recognizing and helping your parent get help with their hearing loss can help your parent improve their daily life.
Here’s what you need to know about hearing loss in seniors and some tips for living well with hearing loss.
Hearing loss is a condition that can have many different causes. While some types of hearing loss are permanent, others can be at least partially reversed. This is why it’s essential to encourage your parent to see a healthcare provider if they’re experiencing symptoms of hearing loss.
Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, comes on gradually and usually affects both ears equally. It seems to run in families, so it may be genetic. Seniors with presbycusis might have trouble tolerating loud noises and hearing what others say.
Hearing loss in seniors can also be caused or worsened by:
Many types of hearing loss can’t be reversed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be managed. Hearing technologies have advanced dramatically in recent years. There are also strategies you can help your parent employ to live well even with hearing difficulties.
The most important thing you can do if you suspect your parent is losing their hearing is to encourage them to see a healthcare professional. Hearing problems that are untreated or ignored can get worse.
Your parent’s family doctor may be able to diagnose and treat their hearing difficulties. Or they may refer your parent to other specialists such as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) or an audiologist (a health professional specializing in hearing loss).
Interacting with the rest of the world when your hearing is impaired can be frustrating. However, there are ways to help your parent manage their surroundings proactively. This will make it easier for your senior parent to live well with hearing loss.
Have conversations in a well-lit area, facing your parent, and away from as much other noise as possible. Many people with mild hearing loss read lips and facial expressions as a way to follow conversations more than they realize.
If your parent needs to be in a noisy environment, such as a restaurant, request a table as far away from the activity as possible. Seat your parent where they can see most people’s faces, such as the head of the table. If they hear better out of one ear, try to ensure that your parent is seated so that side faces the people speaking.
For some types of hearing loss, a hearing aid might be appropriate. Some seniors might be resistant to hearing aids because they remember the bulky, whistling models of the past. However, hearing aid technology has advanced tremendously over the years. Current models are much more comfortable, effective, and discreet.
Today’s hearing aids function like mini-computers and can be programmed to your parent’s specific hearing needs. Many newer models can analyze sounds in the environment and automatically adjust to help your parent hear best.
For the best results, your parent will want their hearing aids fitted and adjusted by a specialist. However, some seniors might have concerns about cost. Over-the-counter hearing aids are now available to treat mild to moderate hearing loss. OTC hearing aids don’t require a medical exam, prescription, or professional fitting.
In addition to hearing aids, many types of technology are available to help seniors live well with hearing loss. Exploring available technology is another key to living well with hearing loss.
Some devices use visuals or vibration to make up for a lack of ability to perceive sound. These devices might include:
PSAPs—personal sound amplifiers are another product sold directly to consumers. These sometimes get mistaken for hearing aids, but they’re not designed to treat hearing loss.
Hiring a home caregiver can help provide your senior parent with companionship and light help around the house. In-home caregivers are specially trained to work with seniors who might have trouble hearing or communicating.
Your parent may feel more secure knowing someone without difficulty hearing is in the house if someone comes to the door. Or they may just enjoy having someone to talk to in the quiet of their own home where it’s easier to have a conversation.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that an audiologist screen seniors without any obvious symptoms of hearing loss every three years after the age of 50 years.
If your parent has had exposure to loud noises, toxic medications, or other risk factors associated with hearing loss, they should be screened more frequently.
If your parent has symptoms of hearing loss, they should make an appointment for a hearing evaluation as soon as possible. These signs often occur gradually, so they might not be noticeable initially.
Symptoms of hearing loss include:
If your parent experiences a sudden loss of hearing, particularly if it is only one ear, help them to seek medical attention immediately. This could be a sign of a more serious medical condition.
You might think that your senior parent losing hearing as they age is just frustrating or inconvenient for them. However, it could also negatively impact their health. Having hearing loss evaluated and treated as early can help remove obstacles to living well with hearing loss.
Not being able to hear auditory alarms or alerts, such as from a smoke detector or a cooking timer, could be dangerous.
Your inner ear affects your balance. Some conditions that cause hearing loss can also affect your ear’s ability to help you maintain your balance as you move around. For seniors, this can be dangerous as falls can lead to serious injury.
Older adults who can’t hear well may mistakenly come across as confused or uncooperative with others. They may feel frustrated or embarrassed in social situations when they can’t hear what’s being said. This can cause them to withdraw from others, leading to social isolation and depression.
Studies have shown that hearing loss can impact a senior’s cognitive function and risk of dementia.
Seniors with hearing loss are more at risk for developing dementia than those without hearing loss. In fact, the hearing loss levels corresponded to the level of increased risk for dementia. Mild hearing loss was associated with a two-fold increase in risk; moderate hearing loss with a three-fold increase in risk; and severe hearing loss with a five-fold increase in risk.
Parentis Health is here to help you and your senior parent navigate the changes that come with aging.
Contact us today to discuss how we can help!