Are you concerned that you may be experiencing hearing loss? Have your friends and family members commented that your television is too loud, or does it sound like other people are always mumbling?
If so, you are not alone. Hearing loss is a common experience for seniors. In fact, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 33% of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have experienced some degree of hearing loss. And as people get older, hearing loss becomes even more likely. About half of those over the age of 75 can’t hear as well as they used to. Unfortunately, hearing loss is more than just an inconvenience. In the case of a fire or other emergency, you may not notice smoke alarms or ringing telephones, and reduced hearing can also be dangerous if you drive.
The first step when you suspect hearing loss is to make an appointment with your doctor. He or she will help you determine what kind of hearing loss you are experiencing. The two most common types are sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
This is the most common type of hearing loss associated with aging. It occurs as a result of damage to the inner ear and is usually permanent. Sensorineural hearing loss can range from mild to profound and may make it more difficult to hear high-frequency sounds such as female voices, children’s voices, and certain letter sounds.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Hearing loss may also occur as a result of injury or illness. Conductive hearing loss is associated with blockages in the middle ear such as fluid, ear wax, or a benign tumor. Medicine or surgery may be able to correct the problem.
Hearing Loss Symptoms and Tests
Reduced ability to hear clearly sometimes creates tension in families, especially if you don’t immediately recognize what is happening. You may feel more irritable than normal if people often ask you to repeat yourself, or you may have difficulty carrying on a telephone conversation. If you suspect that you may be experiencing hearing loss, look for these common signs:
Other people complain that the radio or television is too loud
People often sound like they are mumbling
You frequently ask people to repeat themselves
You have trouble understanding conversations over the phone
You experience ringing or hissing sounds in the ears (Tinnitus)
You feel increasingly uncomfortable in social situations
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it’s time to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. Your doctor may conduct several kinds of tests at the appointment, including a physical exam and a baseline screening test to establish your current hearing ability. If your doctor suspects hearing loss, he or she may refer you to an audiologist, where you will undergo more extensive screening. Additional tests may include a tuning fork test to establish where any damage has occurred and an audiometer test to determine the severity of hearing loss.
The treatment you receive for your hearing loss will depend on the specific cause and severity of the damage. These are the most common treatment options your doctor may recommend:
Hearing Aids. Hearing aids help people with sensorineural hearing loss to distinguish sounds more clearly. You may need several visits with your doctor to determine the correct settings and fit.
Cochlear Implants. For those with nerve damage resulting in severe hearing loss, cochlear implants can greatly improve the ability to process sounds. The implant includes three parts: a headpiece, a processor, and a surgically implanted receiver. The headpiece and processor work together to capture and transmit sounds, which are then passed on to the receiver. The receiver sends the sound signals to the brain.
Assistive Listening Devices. Assistive listening devices help people with hearing loss interact in a world that depends on sound-based technology devices such as telephones, alarms, and televisions. They include a variety of amplifiers, alert systems, headphones, and bluetooth devices designed to bring sound directly to the ear or to offer a visual alternative.
The good news is that with most types of hearing loss, there are options available to help you improve your hearing so you can enjoy interactions with other people again. If family members or caregivers have expressed concern about your hearing ability, start by talking to your doctor. He or she will help you determine the nature and extent of any hearing loss and help you develop a treatment plan that works for you.